The San Diego Police Department has launched an Internal Affairs investigation into an officer who allegedly pepper-sprayed and beat an unarmed Latino man with Down syndrome.
Antonio Martinez, 21, was walking down a street in San Diego, Calif. last week when police searching for a domestic violence suspect drove by him. Police called out to Martinez, who was on his way to work in his family’s bakery, but he apparently pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, clenched his hands in his pocket and continued walking.
When he was stopped by police that night, he was probably terrified, panicked, and tried to ignore the deputy... Of course they had no right to stop him, much-less use pepper-spray or beat him.
- Attorney Dan Gilleon
According to San Diego Sheriff Department’s Public Affairs Director Jan Caldwell, it was Sheriff Deputy Jeffrey Guy who then pepper-sprayed Martinez and used a baton to subdue him after the Latino man ignored several commands.
Witnesses, however, say that when Martinez fell to the ground, he was beaten and kicked repeatedly by two police officers, even smashing his face in the pavement as Martinez’s sister, Jessica Martinez, screamed at the officers that he was developmentally delayed.
Caldwell, the spokeswoman, said that it wasn’t until Martinez was handcuffed and placed in the police car that deputies realized he had Down syndrome.
Martinez was taken to a local hospital where he was released two hours later. The family said he suffered bumps and bruises but no broken bones. He was never charged.
Martinez, who is 4-foot-11 and weighs 158 pounds, has Down syndrome and an IQ of 50 —meaning he thinks like an 8-year-old. His sister Jessica, 20, takes care of him making sure he dresses appropriately for the weather, including putting on a hoodie to stay warm, since people with Down syndrome are more susceptible to illnesses.
“When he was stopped by police that night, he was probably terrified, panicked, and tried to ignore the deputy,” said attorney Dan Gilleon, who is helping the family in the case. “Of course they had no right to stop him, much less use pepper spray or beat him.”
San Diego Police would not respond to questions about the case because it is under Internal Affairs investigation. But Gilleon said the deputy on the domestic violence call was searching for a man who was about 5-foot-10, so Martinez, he said, was clearly not stopped for “reasonable suspicion.”
Now Martinez and his family, who would not comment on the case, are calling for justice and want the deputies responsible fired. The Sheriff’s department, in interviews last week with the local press, has admitted they made a mistake and, in an effort to smooth things over, allegedly offered the family a turkey dinner.
Two days following the incident, Vista sheriff’s Captain Joe Rodi arranged a meeting with the family. He apologized and offered the family a turkey, “in the sprit of the holidays”. The Martinez declined.
They are considering suing the department.
“The family is adamant that race is a factor here, they have a strong feeling about it,” Gilleon said. “The Sheriff’s department has apologized and even admitted responsibility, but saying you’re sorry now is different than what may be said in court later on. The family has said Martinez felt betrayed, and it’s not about the money for them, but they want to do something so this never happens to anyone else again.”
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.