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Criminal Justice

Lawsuit Accuses Six LA Sheriff’s Deputies of Brutally Beating Black Man

WARNING: This video of the immediate aftermath of the incident includes disturbing images of the injuries Christopher Bailey sustained, as well as profanity. It was shot by self-described "cop watcher" Laura Shark. (Courtesy of Laura Shark)
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A civil rights lawsuit filed Monday alleges six L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies repeatedly punched, choked and tasered a man during a traffic stop last year, leaving him unable to see out of one eye and in need of multiple facial reconstruction surgeries.

The suit claims one deputy held Christopher Bailey, 37, in a chokehold while another repeatedly punched him in the face, dislodging one of Bailey’s eyeballs out of its socket and knocking out two of his teeth.

The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the case, citing the litigation.

I was screaming out.
— Christopher Bailey
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Christopher Bailey's face is bruised and his eyes appear swollen shut.
Christopher Bailey after his encounter with L.A. Sheriff's deputies.
(Courtesy of Toni Jaramilla)

Video shot by self-described "cop watcher" Laura Shark captures the moments after the altercation, which happened in Inglewood on May 4, 2020. It shows disturbing images of Bailey’s swollen and bruised face as he sits on the ground surrounded by deputies and is then loaded into an ambulance. Shark is heard saying "he doesn’t even look human.”

Later, a deputy is seen walking to his patrol car with what appear to be large patches of blood on his shirt and bystanders shouting at him.

'I Really Feared For My Life'

At no point during the encounter did Bailey resist the deputies, and he had no weapons, according to his attorney, Toni Jaramilla.

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“I was screaming out,” Bailey said at a news conference Monday as he wore a patch over his left eye. “I wanted to live. I really feared for my life.”

The deputies “were repeatedly kicking and inflicting knee strikes against Mr. Bailey while he lay defenseless on the ground,” the lawsuit claims.

According to Jaramilla, the deputies struck Bailey more than 60 times, with at least half of those blows landing on his face, breaking orbital bones and his nose.

At one point, deputies pulled Bailey's pants down, lifted his shirt up, and tased him in the lower abdomen, said Jaramilla. “You can see seven laser burns on his stomach,” she said.

Last week, Bailey pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of sale/offer to sell/transportation of cannabis and an infraction for failure to drive within lanes and was sentenced to 12 months summary probation, according to the L.A. County District Attorney's office.

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Allegations Of Excessive And Unreasonable Force

The federal lawsuit accuses the six deputies of excessive and unreasonable use of force, battery and negligence. It also names L.A. County as a defendant.

“All use of force incidents which result in injury are unfortunate,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. “Due to this pending litigation and under advice of counsel, we are unable to offer further details at this time.”

The incident began when Bailey was returning home from work around 2 a.m. from a mail sorting business that contracts with the U.S. Postal Service. He was a few minutes from home when two deputies in a patrol car flashed a light into his car as they drove by, made a U-turn, and pulled him over for allegedly straddling the centerline on Prairie Ave. near Hardy Street in Inglewood, according to Jaramilla. It’s unclear why the deputies were in the city, which is normally patrolled by the Inglewood Police Department.

The lawsuit states that Deputies Kevin Walker and Shawn Groves “proceeded to violently drag” Bailey out of his car. The suit also accuses Deputies Luis Cano, Jackson Hill, Matthew Seno, and Joshua Parga of participating in the beating.

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A spokesman for the DA's office said the Sheriff’s Department had not filed a criminal case against the deputies. It is unclear whether they were disciplined.

How The Video Came To Light

Under a new state law, police and sheriff’s departments must release public records related to any incident in which an officer uses force that results in serious injury. The Sheriff’s Department posts some of those records on its website, but they are not always complete.

Jaramilla said she only recently became aware of Shark's video, when the Sheriff's Department gave her an internal affairs investigation file that referred to the recording. Shark said Internal Affairs interviewed her in February.

Shark told us she didn't know Bailey's name for many months. "I did everything I could think of to keep the story alive," she said in an email, noting that she posted the video on YouTube the day after the incident and later sent it to various media and activist groups. Shark said she was hoping the video "would make its way to the lawyer of the man without a name."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Bailey pleaded no contest to the cannabis and traffic charges a few weeks after the original incident. He entered his plea last week.

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