Things That Matter

Latino Southern California Man Dies in Police Custody After Footage Shows Officers Aggressively Beating and Restraining Him

Photo via christian.ghc/Instagram

The family of a Southern California Latino man who died in police custody is demanding justice for what they believe was the unlawful use of excessive force.

33-year-old Ernie Serrano died on December 15th after being forcefully restrained by multiple police officers for an extended period of time.

Although authorities are claiming Serrano had a gun and was threatening their safety, civilian and police body cam footage paints a more complicated picture.

The gruesome civilian cell phone footage begins with Serrano being violently beaten on his arms by a police officer’s baton. The officer then wrestles Serrano to the ground before other officers pile on, tackling him.

The corresponding body cam footage shows a bloodied-up Serrano being forcefully held down by police officers on the checkout’s conveyor belt. The officers appear to be using their bodies to restrain him, heavily leaning on him.

Serrano repeatedly says “let me go”, and at one point even calls the officers out for using “excessive force”.

Appearing to be desperate, Serrano yells his name, his birthday and other important information, ostensibly in order to identify himself in case things take a turn for the worse.

As the video progresses, Serrano slowly begins to lose energy as multiple officers lean on his back. His pleas of “let me go” becoming weaker and weaker. Eventually, Serrano becomes motionless.

One of the officers that was restraining him calls out his name once he becomes unresponsive. When they realize he isn’t breathing, they lower his body to the ground and attempt to resuscitate him. But by this time, it’s too late. According to Riverside County authorities, Serrano was pronounced dead at the local hospital.

The authorities’ official autopsy ruled Serrano’s death a result of acute methamphetamine intoxication.

“While detaining Serrano, he continued fighting with the deputies and did not comply with their commands. At that time, a use of force occurred,” said Riverside Sgt. Lionel Murphy to Fox11 News.

But regardless of whether Serrano was using drugs or not, civil rights activists have long made the point that drug-use does not and should not equal an automatic death sentence at the hands of law enforcement. If someone is indeed high or intoxicated while interacting with law enforcement, the proper lawful paths should be taken to correct the behavior. People who use drugs do not automatically “deserve” death.

After viewing the footage leading up to Serrano’s death, his family believes that there are some inconsistencies to the police’s story.

For one, Serrano was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and the Riverside police say they used force on him because he had a gun. But the footage does not show Serrano wielding a gun against the officers. Serrano’s family believes his death could have been prevented.

“Fear, anxiety, all of those elements were there that [the police are] trained to recognize. And instead of helping him when he’s saying ‘help’, what do they do? They keep him in that position and they’re smiling when they’re doing it,” said the family’s lawyer, Humberto Guizar at a December 21st press conference outside the grocery store where Serrano died. “They killed him. This is murder.”

“Pigs are lying about what took place,” wrote Serrano’s aunt, Michelle Castillo on Facebook. “But there’s plenty of video to show what really went down.”

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