Bloody arrest in San Rafael prompts protests, investigation

Two San Rafael police officers are on leave, even more are under investigation and the city is clamoring for answers after an encounter with police left a man with blood streaming down his face.

The conflict happened while the man, whose name has not been released, was drinking beer with associates in the Canal area. Some initial questioning from police officers quickly turned into a scuffle and handcuffs, according to his attorney and police body cameras.

“He was treated like he didn’t matter as a human being, and he was treated with, really, an absolute contempt for his personhood,” said the attorney, Charles Dresow. He said his client suffered a concussion and broken nose.

Protests erupted downtown over the weekend after video of the encounter, first reported by ABC7 News, came to light.

San Rafael police Officers Daisy Mazariegos and Brandon Nail approached the group on Windward Way at about 7 p.m. July 27, according to footage from the police body cameras. Windward Way in that area is little more than an assembly of parking stalls between the Marin Health and Wellness Campus to the west and a grassy lot to the east.

A voice in the footage directs the people in the group to sit on a curb, and then to produce identification.

“Hey, sit the f— down,” an officer says when a man stood up to take identification out of his pants.

“Hey, you don’t have to talk to me,” the man said. He sat back down as he and the officers speak over each other.

The man stood again as if to pull out his identification, and an officer repeated the order to sit. As the man tried to explain something, at least two officers took hold of him and dropped him to the street. By the time the scrum ended, the man’s blood had pooled on the pavement.

Police put the man in a squad car and firefighters arrived to begin a medical assessment. Someone in a video clip asked the man if he was OK.

“I’m not OK,” he said.

Someone said, “Don’t fight with the police.”

In one clip, Nail told another police officer the man “tried to put me in a headlock.” Dresow said that never happened, but nevertheless was the basis for a felony charge that was filed by the district attorney’s office.

“You’re giving me great experiences with use-of-forces, dude,” one officer says to another in a video clip.

Police sent the man to a hospital for treatment, after which he was booked into the Marin County Jail, Dresow said.

The man was charged with felony resisting an executive officer, but after reviewing footage from the officers’ body cameras, prosecutors decided they would not pursue the charges. They were dropped Aug. 26, according to court records.

Dresow said his client has not yet filed a claim against the police department or the city.

Community leaders say the violent encounter was a huge step backward in relations between the police department and the residents they’re meant to protect.

“We are all in shock with the situation,” said Omar Carrera, chief executive of Canal Alliance, a San Rafael nonprofit that provides services for Latino immigrants and their families. “For us the best strategy on public safety is when the community trusts the police and when the police trust the community.”

He said his organization and the police department had been working for years to build exactly that kind of trust. He said that while “the relationship is not perfect,” and residents have complained about police interactions before, none had risen to this level of violence.

“This is not the type of relationship we have built, this is not the type of actions we’re going to tolerate,” Carrera said.

More fundamentally, Carrera said, the fact that the man felt as though he could not kick back inside his home with a beer after a day’s work was emblematic of larger issues with housing discrimination and lack of services in the Canal neighborhood specifically and Marin County generally. Many Marin residents, particularly the Latino community, are funneled into multi-family housing “where you cannot enjoy drinking a beer after work.”

“This is a reality for many people,” said Carrera, clarifying that he did not condone public consumption of alcohol. “What’s captured in that video is just one symptom of a bigger problem.”

Following the first news report on the encounter, police Chief David Spiller issued a prepared statement saying the department would address any possible “shortcomings.”

“Rudeness, lack of professionalism, or any unnecessary force are all examples of expressly prohibited conduct and such behavior is not at all condoned in our delivery of public safety services,” Spiller wrote. “The actions and conduct of all department members involved are being examined.”

The police department opened an internal investigation, and Spiller vowed that “appropriate” discipline for any officer who violated standards of conduct or department expectations.

The incident set off street protests in recent days in San Rafael, including a march to City Hall and police headquarters. By Tuesday, the investigation had been taken away from the department. The city administration announced it would hire outside investigators to conduct the probe into the officers and supervisors involved, but that Spiller would “decide what discipline, if any, to impose, up to and including the potential of termination of employment.”

Mayor Kate Colin said she was “deeply saddened and distressed by this incident” in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement of an outside investigation.

“I am listening to the community’s anger and concerns and am putting aside my personal emotions to ensure that the involved officers are given their legally mandated due process,” Colin said.

Colin and City Attorney Rob Epstein did not immediately respond to requests for interviews on the incident.

Through a spokesman, Spiller declined to be interviewed.

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