An attorney for the El Monte, Calif., Police Officers Association said the kick to the head delivered by an officer to a car-chase suspect lying on the ground was a legally justified "distraction blow," the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Times reported Dieter Dammeier said the officer acted within his training and department policy when he delivered the kick at the end of a televised high-speed pursuit Wednesday afternoon.
"Unfortunately these things never look good on video. Sometimes officers have to use force when dealing with bad guys," Dammeier said. "The officer initially came upon the suspect alone. The suspect hadn't been searched and was a parolee and a gang member. The individual officer saw some movement. He feared the parolee might have a weapon or be about to get up. So the officer did what is known as a distraction blow. It wasn’t designed to hurt the man, just distract him."
El Monte officers "are trained to deliver a distraction blow to stop a [suspect] doing what they planning on doing," he said.
Police in El Monte had been conducting an internal investigation of the incident, sparked by phone calls by people who saw the kick in live footage taken from above in by helicopter. The suspect appeared to have surrendered and was lying face down on the ground when he was kicked.
"From our perspective [we] hate to comment until we have more facts. What's in the mind of the officer may not be what's in the mind of the viewer," El Monte Assistant Chief Steve Schuster said Wednesday. "As soon as we feel we can make a statement based on facts, we'll do that."
The driver of the car was identified as Richard Rodriguez, 23, of El Monte, Calif. He was booked on charges of felony evading, parole violation, obstruction and or delaying a police officer in the performance of his duties and gang enhancement. Rodriguez, a known gang member, was taken to a county jail.
The suspects were allegedly throwing gang signs during the chase, El Monte Lt. Chuck Carlson told FOXNews.com.
He didn't release the name of the officers involved or the two other suspects in custody.
The chase started at about 1:30 p.m., when El Monte police tried to stop Rodriguez for a traffic violation, state Highway Patrol Officer Jose Nunez told MyFOXLA.com. There were two other men in the car.
The three fled the scene, sending police on a winding chase on freeways and surface streets that ended with a collision in Pico Rivera, MyFOXLA.com reported.
One suspect jumped out of the car and surrendered to police when the car was forced to stop in traffic. Rodriguez sped away, and objects were thrown from the car, according to MyFOXLA.com.
Rodriguez hit an SUV after exiting a freeway, where police apprehended one suspect.
A foot pursuit followed the high-speed car chase that lasted more than 30 minutes and saw the suspect lead a chaotic drive through El Monte, Whittier and other parts of eastern Los Angeles County.
The suspect who was kicked had fled on foot behind a nearby apartment complex. It is unclear if that suspect is Rodriguez.
Two of the suspects were taken to Greater El Monte Community Hospital.
No one was seriously injured, Carlson said.