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Police Department Releases Tony Denunzio Arrest Footage

Chief Cam Sanchez Says Arresting Officer Used Proper Amount of Force


Friday, December 2, 2011

The Santa Barbara Police Department has released dash-cam video from Officer Aaron Tudor’s patrol vehicle on October 21, the night he arrested DUI suspect Tony Denunzio in the parking lot of Loreto Plaza. The highly anticipated video illuminates some of the arrest, though questions remain about the amount of force Tudor used to make the arrest versus Denunzio’s alleged resistance during the encounter.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to press resisting-arrest charges against Denunzio, and DA Joyce Dudley said she will not pursue any charges against Tudor. Denunzio, however, will be charged with DUI, driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or above, and driving without a license. A blood sample taken from Denunzio after the incident showed a BAC (blood alcohol content) reading of .09 percent. His next court appearance is next week.

Cam Sanchez addresses the media during Friday's press conference
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Cam Sanchez addresses the media during Friday's press conference

In the video — which the city attorney’s office said now qualifies as public record because of the completed investigation and evaluation of the arrest — Denunzio can be seen getting out of his car, cigarette in mouth. He looks back toward Officer Tudor, who quickly jumps out of his car, telling Denunzio, “Stay in your car.” Denunzio slowly turns his head away from the officer, who comes up behind him, grabs his left arm, and pushes him toward Denunzio’s SUV.

Tudor — a four-year veteran of the department — performs a leg sweep and Denunzio falls to the ground. A short period of time passes before Tudor starts striking Denunzio with his knee and his open palm. (Witnesses described closed-fist punching.) Denunzio then appears on his knees with the officer sort of straddling his back, but both of their faces are out of view of the camera, blocked by Denunzio’s vehicle. Tudor can be seen using his Taser in the “drive stun” mode, which reduces the Taser’s effectiveness. He didn’t deploy the more powerful wires, Chief Cam Sanchez suggested at Friday's press conference in police headquarters, because of the close range. “None of us should try to get in the officer’s head,” Sanchez said. “It’s just an option he used.” The Taser was activated 13 times.

Still image taken from Officer Aaron Tudor's dash-cam video
Click to enlarge photo

Still image taken from Officer Aaron Tudor's dash-cam video

The two then make their way across the camera's range of view. Denunzio can be seen apparently kicking at the officer, and the two drop out of sight once again, where the struggle continues until other officers arrive. One officer can be seen running across the camera with his gun drawn. He holsters his weapon when he gets to the two. Seven minutes and 49 seconds after the camera started rolling, Denunzio is subdued. "What the hell did I do?" Denunzio asks as he's taken to the patrol car.

“That’s called resisting, in my opinion,” Sanchez said after the video was played Friday. He noted it took three officers one minute and seven seconds to get Denunzio under control, and he made it clear he did not think excessive force was used. Sanchez, in his support of Tudor’s actions, said he's only viewed the video footage. He hasn’t talked to the officer about the incident and hasn’t reviewed police or witness reports, explaining there was a process.

Sanchez said he wasn’t making the video available to try the case in the media but rather to show that he believed his officer acted appropriately. “Nothing out of policy happened,” he said. “The decision [to support Tudor], to be quite honest with you, was not very hard.” Because of citizen complaints against the involved officers, an internal investigation is currently underway. Apparently, one of those citizens has retracted her complaint after viewing the in-car camera.

“That’s called resisting, in my opinion,” Sanchez said after the video was played Friday.

DA Dudley, citing divergent witness statements among the 13 people who saw the altercation, as well as evidence from several different audio/video recordings, announced on Wednesday she would not file charges related to the altercation. Some witnesses characterized Tudor’s actions as appropriate; some did not. “There were some witnesses who saw more; there were witnesses who saw less,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer explained. “There were those who characterized Mr. Denunzio as resisting arrest and not complying with the officer. There were witnesses who felt the officer was not acting in a way consistent with professional police behavior.” Sanchez on Friday said he “respectfully disagreed” with the DA’s assessment and decision not to press resisting-arrest charges against Denunzio. “The DA has the authority to do what the DA decides to do,” Sanchez said.

The altercation quickly gained notoriety after some people who witnessed the struggle contacted the media, some with serious concerns about the way the officer acted. One couple was so distraught by the aggressive behavior of Tudor they called 9-1-1 dispatch themselves, the audio of which is embedded above. But Sanchez said that an officer's use of force can sometimes look messy. “No matter who sees officer-use-of-force, you’re going to get many, many opinions,” Sanchez said.

Still image taken from Officer Aaron Tudor's dash-cam video
Click to enlarge photo

Still image taken from Officer Aaron Tudor's dash-cam video

Sanchez said that since 2008, police have received almost 297,000 calls for service. During those calls, police officers used physical force 872 times and their Tasers 146 times; 118 police officers were assaulted. “Police officers are given the authority to use force to accomplish lawful objectives,” he said, noting the dangerous and unpredictable situations in which officers often find themselves. The allowable use of force, Sanchez noted, is “not what the community or chief of police says,” but that which a reasonable officer would use.

One person not at the press conference was Denunzio’s attorney, Darryl Genis. He showed up at the police department but was not allowed at the press conference, which was only for news media. In a statement to The Santa Barbara Independent after the DA’s announcement Wednesday, Genis said, “The decision of whether to prosecute is based upon whether there is enough evidence to prove each element of the case. It is not based upon whether they believe they will win. A ‘Resisting Arrest’ charge is the easiest of all criminal allegations to prove. If the District Attorney does not believe there is enough evidence to charge such an offense, then there is absolutely no justification for the brutal and violent attack upon Mr. Denunzio by S.B. police officer Aaron Tudor, and the District Attorney should be prosecuting him for Felony Assault and Battery with intent to commit great bodily harm.”

Tony Denunzio shortly after his October 2011 arrest for alleged DUI
Click to enlarge photo

Courtesy Photo

Tony Denunzio shortly after his October 2011 arrest for alleged DUI

The video begins with Tudor standing outside of his vehicle parked on the side of Cliff Drive, though the exact location isn't clear. Sanchez said he didn’t know if Tudor had a view of the Arroyo Burro Beach, or the Boathouse, where Denunzio said he had had one a drink. Tudor first started following Denunzio, Sanchez said, because he noticed Denunzio didn’t have a front license plate.

All three illegal lane changes authorities alleged happened occurred near the Highway 101 overcrossing. The first purported illegal lane change seems questionable, as Denunzio chooses one of two lanes where Las Positas grows from a single-lane highway to two lanes. He then maneuvers around a car at a light, and then back into the lane once he makes the pass.

“The officer did exactly what he’s trained to do,” Sanchez said.

Asked why Tudor waited so long to make the arrest, Sanchez explained there was nowhere to pull over on Las Positas in a place that would be safe for the driver, the officer, and other motorists. Tudor turned on his patrol car's emergency lights as Denunzio signaled to turn into Loreto Plaza. “The officer did exactly what he’s trained to do,” Sanchez said.

Incidentally, Tudor just so happened to be driving the only SBPD patrol car equipped with a dash-cam. In response to a Grand Jury report blasting the city for being one of only two jurisdictions in the county with no patrol car videos (Guadalupe is the other), Santa Barbara has been looking into what it would take to have them installed. The department was loaned a camera from WatchGuard Video to try it out, a police spokesman said, and Sanchez said Friday it would cost $225,000 to outfit cars with videos.

Police provided the media with two videos: one normal-speed version and one slowed down to one-quarter speed. The narrative in the slow-mo video was added by the SBPD, not The Independent.

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