As a news helicopter hovered above, several sheriff’s deputies in Southern California approached a suspected horse thief who had fled into the desert. In full view of the cameras, the deputies then appeared to brutally beat the suspect after one officer fired a stun gun at him.

The Thursday incident is now the subject of an investigation at the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office, the Los Angeles NBC affiliate reported. It was that station’s news chopper that captured the pursuit and its violent aftermath on camera.

The video shows the suspect — identified as 30-year-old Francis Jared Pusok — attempting to flee from two deputies after he falls off a horse. He then appears to be hit with a Taser and falls to the ground. He is seen with his hands initially outstretched, but Pusok puts them behind his back just before the first two officers on the scene appear to begin beating and kicking him. The beating continues for minutes.

The number of officers at the scene grows to 11, and others appear to join in.

KNBC adds:

“In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times, punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head. The horse stood idly nearby.
The man did not appear to move from his position lying on the ground for more than 45 minutes. He did not appear to receive medical attention while deputies stood around him during that time.”

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told the station that he’s “not sure” whether there was a struggle with the suspect or not. “It appears there was in the early parts of the video. What happens afterwards, I’m not sure of, but we will investigate it thoroughly.”

In a statement, McMahon said that “the video surrounding this arrest is disturbing and I have ordered an internal investigation be conducted immediately. In addition, members of the Specialized Investigations Detail are responding to conduct the criminal investigation.”

McMahon told the Los Angeles Times that the deputies were wearing audio recorders, which would be reviewed.

The sheriff’s office said in a statement that Pusok was hospitalized with unspecified injuries. His family told the NBC station that as of late Thursday night, they had not been told which hospital was treating Pusok.

According to the statement, the chase began when deputies arrived at Pusok’s house to serve a search warrant related to an identity theft investigation. He initially fled in a vehicle, but later abandoned it to continue on foot. At some point, Pusok allegedly stole a horse and fled into the desert.

Police say that the horse threw Pusok off, at which point officers tried to use a stun gun on him. But the Taser was “ineffective due to his loose clothing,” the statement says.

“A use of force occurred during the arrest,” it adds.

Three deputies were injured in the pursuit.

Pusok’s mother, Anne Clemenson, told the NBC affiliate :

“To me, it was like a joyride for the cops to do this to him. (It was) brutality. He didn’t deserve something like that,” Clemenson said. “To Tase him, the beatings that I see them doing to him — it’s uncalled for. You see him laying down, and they continue to kick him, hitting him and punching him. Why?”

In a statement sent to the Los Angeles Times, the ACLU’s Southern California chapter applauded McMahon’s “prompt decision to investigate the disturbing actions of his deputies.”

However, the civil rights group said: “We believe more is needed. Too often the department has failed to address questions … about use of force.”