ELK GROVE, CA– In June of 2019, two men were contacted by police at an Elk Grove Burlington Coat Factory for shoplifting and assaulting loss prevention officers.
One of the men, 23-year-old Juan Mendoza, was non-compliant with officers at first contact, and was eventually arrested for robbery, conspiracy, resisting arrest, and violation of probation. Mendoza was also reported by store workers to have been “throwing up gang signs.”
Months later, Mendoza filed a law suit against the department for “excessive force” occurring during the arrest by Officer Bryan Schmidt.
Mendoza alleged that following the encounter with police, he was hospitalized and sustained a “life-threatening brain injury,” according to his attorney.
At the start of the lawsuit, the department stated:
“An internal investigation was immediately launched. The officer involved was placed on leave and his law enforcement authority was suspended.”
According to the department, the investigation revealed that Officer Schmidt’s supervisor (who has not been named) “failed to identify the use of force, failed to report the use of force, and failed to complete an internal review in accordance with policy.”
The sergeant resigned following the lawsuit from this incident.
Of course, the City settled with Mendoza outside of court, and he was paid out at $100,000.
On March 12, Elk Grove Police Chief Timothy Albright released a “transparency” video of the incident.
Watch the video here:
In the video, Chief Albright said:
“When we have a critical incident within our community, we want to share as much information with the community as much as possible. The trust from our community is critical to our success and that trust is built through transparency.”
The video showed body cam and dash cam footage from multiple angles. In it, you can see Mendoza walking up to officers casually, as if he didn’t just commit robbery and beat the crap out of loss prevention officers.
Officer Schmidt issued commands. Mendoza is non-compliant.
Part of the information officers had received, as noted above, was that one suspect (who loss prevention (LP) officers had identified as Mendoza) was throwing up gang signs in the store.
LP said that Mendoza and the other involved suspect punched one of the LP officers multiple times and kneed him in the face, which is verified by video in the second half of this article.
LP also reported that Mendoza had walked over to a vehicle in the parking lot after assaulting LP and leaving the store. LP had not seen a weapon, but they did see Mendoza going inside the trunk of said vehicle.
Dispatch had communicated to the officers that Mendoza had an extensive criminal history, to include several firearms charges.
At gunpoint, Mendoza got down on the ground as ordered, but he did not follow commands to get his arms away from his body, choosing instead to keep them in a way that left his hands close to his waistband.
As officers, we all know the danger in that: It has not yet been established as to whether this suspect is carrying a weapon.
For whatever reason, Officer Schmidt is dealing with the suspect on his own at first contact, while other officers are dealing with the first suspect, who is compliant.
Officer Schmidt starts to approach Mendoza, who then lifts his head to look at the officer. Again, we all know the danger in that: It’s called target acquisition.
I don’t know about you, but one thing I was taught in the academy is that when we prone out suspects, we tell them to look away from where officers are standing. This is because if he can see where you’re at, the suspect has a better chance at attacking if that’s what his intention is.
Which of course, as far as intention, we don’t know and have no way of knowing.
This is why we always plan for the worst case scenario.
If you watch the video, you will see that, again, Officer Schmidt was solo at this point, there was no cover for him. He had come too close to the subject to retreat by that time. His gun was drawn (obviously, and as it should have been), and verbal commands were not working.
What you won’t see on the video is a statement later heard by Officer Schmidt, which adds to the totality of circumstances and lends some perspective into what’s going on in the officer’s head.
Officer Schmidt tells an officer after the suspects are in custody (which can be heard on the cameras):
“He was just kind of like smiling, doing that smirk”
That’s dangerous in and of itself. I’m sorry but if an officer is giving you commands, you’ve just committed a robbery and already assaulted an authority figure (loss prevention officer), you’re known to carry firearms and you smirk at him while not complying?
You’re gonna get kicked in the head so that I, as the officer, can move without you seeing where I’m going.
Which, incidentally, is exactly what happened.
Officer Schmidt used a push-kick maneuver to get Mendoza’s head facing away from him. Then, the officer used his feet to get Mendoza’s hands away from his body.
Other officers walked up at that point and were able to get Mendoza into handcuffs.
Mendoza can be seen in the back of the patrol car later in the video, and we can see blood on his lower lip and near his chin. This image is used by Mendoza’s attorney, as well as the Chief, to point to the “excessive force” by Officer Schmidt.
However, please remember the fight with loss prevention that had ensued prior to Mendoza’s contact with police, where Mendoza was hit in the face multiple times as well.
In Chief Albright’s “transparency” video, he said of the failure to report:
“This failure not only did not allow for a thorough review of the force but exposed the city to unnecessary liability. It is a fact of this job that the use of force is at time necessary to protect the lives of the public and our officers. We do not take the use of force lightly and when questions arise we must investigate and take the appropriate action when appropriate.”
Additionally, the chief said of Officer Schmidt’s use of force:
“The actions that night were not congruent with our organization’s mission, vision and values. The actions by those involved do not represent the 260 committed women and men of this organization who are dedicated to serving with empathy, integrity, and professionalism.”
On Tuesday, March 17th, a law firm representing Officer Schmidt released a video titled “All the Evidence” as a rebuttal to Chief Albright’s video.
You can view the video here:
If you watched the video above and you’re a cop or any other normal person, you were probably nodding your head in agreement the entire time.
Officer Schmidt’s video provided commentary from use of force expert Shawn McCann who offered his analysis of what happened during the incident.
In Officer Schmidt’s video, McCann explained the meaning of the “Totality of the Circumstances” and how it is defined under California State Law as part of the Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The California law requires that use of force cases must be analyzed as:
“[The] totality of the circumstances means all facts known to the peace officer at the time, including the conduct of the officer and the subject leading up to the use of deadly force.”
This means that everything needs to be taken into consideration including the facts surrounding the situation and every fact that the officer was confronted with at the time.
Of course they will look at what the suspect did in the time leading up to the incident, but they will also take into account how the officer is conducting themselves during the event, among other factors, such as what dispatch said to the officer as s/he approached the scene, according to McCann.
We all know this.
Does the Chief know it?
He should, as he went to a police academy just like all of the lowly rank-and-file officers. Regardless, now Officer Schmidt is having to fight to get his job back when all he did was use appropriate force to effect an arrest.
Perhaps the officer should have sat down cross-legged next to Mendoza and put a hand on his back while asking him to pretty please get his hands away from his body.
Maybe then he wouldn’t have lost his job, although he might have lost his life.
We at Law Enforcement Today wish Officer Schmidt luck in getting his job back, and we wish luck to the rest of the department who has to put up with a chief like Chief Albright.
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