A California police officer punched a 14-year-old black boy in the chest and pinned his head to the ground while detaining him for possessing a cigar in an incident that was captured on video.
The video, which was posted to Twitter by the boy's family and their friends, shows a Rancho Cordova police officer beating the teen as he struggles on the ground. After it was shared tens of thousands of times, authorities said the incident was under review — but also that the boy resisted detention as the officer attempted to investigate a potential crime.
"It’s important to put video footage into context, especially in relation to a use of force incident," Sacramento County Sheriff's Sgt. Tess Deterding said in a statement.
In the video, the officer attempts to turn the boy, who is lying on his back, onto his stomach and then pins his head into the ground as someone in the background says, "Stop, bro." The officer then throws punches into his chest as he flips the boy again onto his back.
Twitter user @0hnana__, who identified herself as the boy's sister, said he has a serious heart condition "that could be triggered very easily by being hit in his chest/back!"
"He’s a kid and has never been in any kind of trouble with the law," she tweeted. "He was very scared and in so much pain!!!"
She said he was cited for resisting arrest over his possession of a Swisher Sweet, a type of cigar.
"They ended up letting him go so what was all of this for?? Smh he was left with scratches and chest pains! this was so unnecessary!" she wrote.
In additional videos posted to Instagram, the boy is heard telling the cop, "I wasn't fighting, bro. I wasn't fighting" and that he is only 14 years old.
According to the sheriff's department, the officer was patrolling the area on Monday due to complaints about hand-to-hand sales of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs to minors when he saw what he believed to be an exchange between the 14-year-old and an adult.
"As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area," Deterding said. "When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information."
The boy told the officer he was 18 years old, according to the statement. The officer then attempted to detain the juvenile to further investigate the situation, "having reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring."
"The juvenile became physically resistive at that time, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away," Deterding said. "The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him."
Nathaniel Galbraith, 28, who said he and his wife witnessed the incident from their car, told BuzzFeed News they saw the officer attempting to handcuff the boy when he turned to say something to the officer, who then slammed him to the ground and started punching him.
"We can see the cop put the handcuffs on the boy, and we pull up closer and the boy like he turns his arm a little bit just like any kid would do," Galbraith said. "That's just a natural reflex."
Justin Tufono, 31, the boy's uncle, told BuzzFeed News Thursday that his nephew, who they're identifying by his nickname Jah, had asked an adult to buy him some Swisher Sweets at the Chevron gas station. When the man returned with the cigars, he dropped them on the ground for Jah to pick up, Tufono said.
As he walked away, Jah was stopped by the officer who asked what was in his hand. Tufono said Jah gave the Swisher Sweets to the officer. When asked his name and his age, Jah lied, his uncle said. Then, without warning, the officer grabbed his wrist.
"My nephew was confused like, 'Whoa, am I being arrested?'" Tufono said. "That's when the officer continued with physical action instead of saying, 'Hold on.' He didn't use words."
Officials said the officer ultimately recovered tobacco products from the juvenile, who was cited and released to his guardians.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and the Rancho Cordova Police Department, which contracts with the sheriff's department, are investigating the officer's use of force in the incident.
In a video statement posted Wednesday, Police Chief Kate Adams said the officer involved has been temporarily reassigned to a role outside of the Rancho Cordova department during the investigation.
"This type of situation is hard on everyone — the young man, who resisted arrest, and the officer, who would much rather have him cooperate," Deterding said.
Tufono said he and his family want the sheriff's department to fire the officer involved, saying it was clear by his actions that he shouldn't be a cop.
"He ‘s disgraced his badge and he shouldn't have the right to wear it any longer," he said.
Given that Jah has ventricular tachycardia, a heart rhythm disorder that can cause cardiac arrest, Tufono said the family is grateful that he is alive and that the officer's actions didn't cause an episode.
"I was angry at the fact that anybody twice the size of another person would pin them down ... and throw blows at them," he said. "I know people have said, 'How was the cop supposed to know that he had this heart condition?' Well, you shouldn't do that to anybody half your size, even if they’re healthy."