California Teen Sues After Video Shows Officer Punching Him

A California teenager is suing the Fresno Police Department after he was brutally and repeatedly punched by a police officer during what authorities referred to as a “gang related” operation. The incident involving 17-year-old London Wallace was caught on body cameras worn by Fresno Police officers.

Wallace was celebrating a relative’s birthday on January 23 when a group of police officers arrived to conduct a probation search, the lawsuit said. Body-camera footage released by Wallace’s attorney Nolan Kane show two officers holding Wallace’s arms over his head as he is patted down.

The two officers released him and gestured for him to sit on the floor in the landing outside of the apartment, the video shows. When he turned, another officer is seen grabbing the 17-year-old boy and punching him repeatedly in the head.

“Put your hands behind your back,” someone shouts repeatedly in the background. Footage shows two officers pushing Wallace down to the ground and handcuffing him.

“It’s a very disappointing situation. You can see London Wallace crying. You can see him bleeding,” Kane told KFSN, which first published the footage.

Kane said his client does not have a criminal history or any gang connections. “He’s a high school kid. He likes playing basketball. He’s a nice, calm, timid person,” Kane said. “And you can kind of see that in the video. He’s not used to police contact.”

The footage shows Wallace bleeding from his face. The lawsuit notes that the teen’s nose was broken during the incident, and he suffered other injuries, The New York Times reported.

“Christopher Martinez attacked, punched and tackled Plaintiff to the ground resulting in serious injuries to Plaintiff, including but not limited to, a broken nose, bleeding and emotional distress,” the lawsuit said.

“At no point did Plaintiff pose a threat to Officer Christopher Martinez or any other Fresno Police Department Officer. At no point did Plaintiff disobey any orders from the Fresno Police Department.”

In a police report, Officer Christopher Martinez wrote that he believed the teen would attempt to run away. He claimed that he punched Wallace in the face three times, allowing him to get his back away from the second-story balcony railing.

Martinez wrote that he “grabbed” Wallace because it appeared like he was not listening to officers’ orders to sit down. He then claimed the teen took a “fighting stance” and that he feared Wallace would push officers over the railing.

“I punched Wallace approximately three times in the face in order to get him off me and to back him up,” Martinez wrote in his report. Martinez alleged that Wallace resisted arrest, prompting the officer to strike him “approximately two more times” while he was on the ground.

Another officer, identified as R. Loza, wrote in a police report that he used his “forearm to strike” the teen two times as he attempted to get control.

Following the incident, Wallace was arrested for resisting arrest. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against the high school student. Wallace is now using the body camera footage as the basis for his excessive force lawsuit against Fresno Police. The teen is seeking damages for negligence and emotional distress.

On August 21, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that the video footage from the body cameras was being used in an internal investigation of Martinez. The officer was placed on modified duty at a desk instead of remaining on the streets, the police chief told reporters.

“The video that I have reviewed certainly raises concerns and raises questions for me as a police chief,” Dyer said, according to ABC News. “Those questions will be answered once all the video is reviewed, the interviews are conducted, the evidence is looked at and the investigation is complete.”

Dyer said that further “appropriate action” would be determined by the investigation’s results. He acknowledged that Wallace was hit “at least once with one of those blows.” According to KFSN, an initial use of force investigation did not deem that the officer had used excessive force.

“I am asking people reserve final judgement until the entire investigation is complete,” Dyer added. The Fresno Police Department did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for further comment.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.