January 20, 2010
About the Video: By Kiera Hay
Journal Staff Writer
Santa Fe city government on Wednesday released a surveillance video showing a four-year veteran of the Santa Fe Police Department pummeling a handcuffed teenager at the Santa Fe Police Station as two other officers look on.
The tape shows officer David Smoker — who was fired after the incident — throwing 17-year-old Brendon Singer to the floor and delivering blows to the teenager's head, buttocks and spine.
Two other officers, Robert Hollingsworth and David Rael, appear to stand by and watch the attack unfold. Hollingsworth also was fired and Rael was disciplined.
“After Brendon spat at officer Hollingsworth, David Smoker unleashed a violent physical attack upon Brendon. The attack was captured by the surveillance camera. Brendon offered no resistance to the beating,” said a summary of the incident written by city attorneys.
The summary said Singer and his fellow arrestee, a 14-year-old male, were “heavily intoxicated” the night they were taken into custody on Nov. 16, 2007. The two boys were handcuffed and seated in chairs in the station's “patrol bay,” a room where officers bring detainees to complete paperwork.
“These juveniles were being extremely belligerent, loudmouthed, obnoxious, and were directing obscenities towards the officers ... his abuse of the officers continued for a considerable amount of time and created a stressful and tense situation,” the summary of evidence said.
At one point, Singer spits on Hollingsworth while the officer's back is turned. The tape then shows Smoker moving toward Singer and kicking a wastebasket between the teenager's feet.
In response, “Brendon is seen closing his knees in apparent attempt to protect his testicles from being struck by the kick. Brendon also lowers his head and raises his knees and tries to curl up in ball. Officers Hollingsworth and Rael are watching the kick,” city documents state.
The tape shows Smoker smacking Singer across the neck and shoulder, grabbing him and throwing him to the floor. Smoker then takes hold of the teenager's head and slams it against the tile floor. He next slams Singer's head against a steel door casing.
Singer is then raised to his feet, and Smoker jams his left knee into the 17-year-old's buttocks. He then uses his right knee to deliver a blow to Singer's spine. After the attack, Smoker kicks a wastebasket as he walks away.
Hollingsworth and Rael simply watch the scene unfold.
Smoker was fired after the incident, as was Hollingsworth, a 12-year veteran of the department, who was accused of intentionally providing false statements during a subsequent investigation. Rael, an 11-year employee, received a 40-hour suspension. A hearing officer upheld the city's disciplinary decisions in June 2009.
Singer, described in city documents as a 17-year-old “Native American foster child,” settled with the city for $15,000. Apparently, no lawsuit was ever filed in the case.
“The surveillance DVD demonstrates that Officer Smoker used excessive force, battered a handcuffed juvenile and engages in conduct unbecoming to an officer,” the incident summary states.
It adds, “Officers Hollingsworth and Rael obviously saw Officer Smoker's kick, slap and takedown, yet failed to respond in any way to stop the attack. They failed to render any assistance or protect the rights of this juvenile. Thus, their failure to act in this situation constitutes conduct unbecoming to an officer.”
The city's police union supported the appeals of Smoker, Hollingsworth and Rael. Union president Allan Lopez said Wednesday that the organization's main objection was the severity of the punishment meted out to Smoker and Hollingsworth. There's a difference between engaging in criminal activity and breaking with standard policy, he said.
“It's called progressive discipline. We're saying (the punishment) didn't need to be the last resort,” Lopez said.
Lopez also said the union has concerns that punishment at the police department isn't administered equally across the board.
Police Chief Aric Wheeler said “appropriate action was taken” by the city.
“This was something that took place under Chief (Eric) Johnson's administration. He dealt with it as he felt (he needed) to deal with it, and the officers had consequences for their actions,” he said.
The city fired another officer, Flavio Salazar, last year for allegedly lying to other members of the police department and to a grand jury about what happened in a case involving an elderly and disabled man who was arrested in 2007 and jailed for allegedly assaulting Salazar. The victim received a payout of $225,000.
Another Santa Fean, Yvette Ortega, was paid $60,000 last year after filing a lawsuit alleging she was assaulted and wrongfully charged by two city police officers after the police were called to a Cerrillos Road nightclub.
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