As a police officer patted him down, 17-year-old London Wallace stood with his arms behind his head. When another officer pointed and ordered him to sit, the teen walked in that direction.
It was then that Fresno, Calif., police officer Christopher Martinez grabbed Wallace’s arm, punched him several times in the face and wrestled him to the ground. In reports written after the incident, Martinez accused Wallace of resisting arrest and fighting back. The punches, he wrote, were necessary to restrain him.
But Wallace’s attorney, Nolan Kane, has disputed that account in a complaint filed in Fresno County Superior Court. He cited newly released body-camera footage as reason to doubt the officer’s claims and accused the department of using excessive force while breaking up a party eight months ago. At a Tuesday news conference, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer acknowledged the video was alarming and promised a complete investigation.
“The video I have reviewed certainly raises concerns and raises questions for me as a police chief,” he said. “Those questions will be answered.”
The Jan. 23 incident unfolded after police arrived at Fenix Apartments, just north of downtown Fresno, to conduct a probation search, according to a police report provided by Kane. More than a dozen men within the second-floor apartment were ordered outside, including Wallace, who is seen on video being searched as his peers watch from the ground. In the police report, Martinez said Wallace “was not listening” when instructed to sit with the others. He alleged Wallace walked in the opposite direction and became combative when confronted.
“I believed Wallace was going to attempt to flee down the stairs … I gave Wallace a chance to sit on his own, but he still did not sit down as I told him to,” Martinez wrote. When Martinez grabbed the teen’s right arm to “regain control,” he said, “Wallace pushed me back and took a fighting stance … I was in fear Wallace was going to push me and other Officers over the side railing as he was pushing forward.”
He continued, “I punched Wallace approximately three times in the face in order to get him off me and to back him up.”
In the body-camera video, which was first published Tuesday by ABC30, Martinez appears to throw at least eight punches toward Wallace’s head within seconds of grabbing his arm. Kane said the punches left the teen with a broken nose and other facial injuries. Later in the video, Wallace is shown bleeding from his face.
He yelled that he didn’t do anything as he was placed in handcuffs.
In the report, Martinez wrote that he struck Wallace two more times “while he was on the ground and actively resisting, refusing to place his hands behind his back and trying to fight back.”
Police arrested Wallace on suspicion of resisting arrest, but prosecutors did not pursue the charges, Kane said. He added Wallace was not in possession of any weapons or drugs, as evidenced by the search shown in the video. Other responding officers wrote in the report that the men inside the apartment were known gang members, but Kane said his client has no gang affiliation or criminal history.
Wallace, he said, posed no threat to the officer that warranted such a violent response.
“We’re very fortunate we have this body-camera video, because if we’re going by just the words of the officers, it’d paint a completely different picture,” Kane said in an interview.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Dyer said Martinez was placed on desk duty and would not be allowed in the field, pending the results of an internal affairs investigation, according to the Fresno Bee. Dyer asked the community to bear with him as the department looks into the incident.
“What I am asking for, though I know a lot of people have concerns about what they saw on this video, as do I, and understandably so,” Dyer said. “I ask people reserve final judgment until the entire investigation is complete and findings are rendered.”
Kane said Wallace is doing better but still shaken by the ordeal.
“You have a minor who has a clean record who is not only being contacted by police, but being attacked by police,” he said. “It was upsetting for him and his family.”