Rancho Cordova, CA — A video of a violent police interaction involving a child was sent to the Free Thought Project yesterday through Instagram. It shows Rancho Cordova Police Officer Brian Fowell violently attacking 14-year-old Elijah Tufono over a Swisher Sweet tobacco product.
Tufono is now speaking out and says that while people may claim he was resisting, he was only trying to stop the officer from hitting him in his face. However, he admits he could’ve composed himself a little better.
“He’s on top of me and it looks like he’s about to hit me. Like, I’m reacting like any other normal human being would,” Tufono told FOX40. “It could’ve been better on both of our parts in this situation.”
According to Tufono, like kids across the country do every day, he asked a stranger to purchase some tobacco for him. TFTP is in no way condoning the use of tobacco by teens. However, thanks to officer Fowell, Tufono’s dangerous decision to engage in tobacco use at such a young age, was drastically compounded.
“And that’s when the cop pulled up. And he asked me what was that in my hand. And I had gave him, as soon as he asked me that, I just gave it to him,” recalled Tufono.
According to Tufono, despite immediately handing over the Swisher Sweet to the cop, he became confrontational. Tufuno admitted that he lied to the cop and gave him false information. However, the teen says that was no reason for what happened next.
“I did lie to him and I didn’t cooperate, and I know that and I made that mistake. But that didn’t give him no right to do what he did,” said Tufono.
According to Tufuno, the cop then moved in to put him in handcuffs and would not tell him why. Naturally, not wanting to be kidnapped over a Swisher Sweet, Tufono yanked away from the cop.
“So when he did that, I pulled my right hand back and that’s when he started getting aggressive and trying to fight,” said Tufono.
The boy was then taken down with force.
The video does not show the officer taking Tufono to the ground, however, it does show what happened once the massive cop was on top of the skinny boy, one-third his size.
Officer Fowell is throwing the 14-year-old boy around like a rag doll. He is seen grabbing the boy by the throat, throwing him from side to side and punching him several times in the head.
This cop just turned a bad decision of teen tobacco use into a potentially life threatening one as he put all of his weight on the teen while attacking him.
Naturally, the department paints a different picture and said that officer Fowell had no choice but to intervene after watching an adult hand a teen something — he had no idea what it was, but initiated the stop anyway.
“It’s important to put video footage into context, especially in relation to a use of force incident. In this case, the deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile. As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area. When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information,” the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office responded on behalf of the Rancho Cordova Police Department.
The police department claimed that he had to stay on top of Tufuno — with his hand around the boy’s throat — because he dropped his handcuffs and had no other choice.
“The juvenile became physically resistive at that time, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away. The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him,” the statement said.
Showing the entirely unnecessary nature of the interaction, Tufuno was handcuffed, cited for underage tobacco use over the Swisher Sweet and let go.
“I mean, I do forgive him. I have nothing against the cop. He was just doing his job, I guess,” said Tufono.
But is it really the job of police to play parent to someone else’s child? We don’t think so.
According to FOX 40, Tufuno’s family was grief-stricken after watching the video. The boy’s uncle is the one who posted it to Instagram, and it was a friend of his who sent it to TFTP.
“It just kind of broke my heart. Anger and frustration went to sadness, especially the fact that he has a heart condition. And that’s the immediate thing that got to me,” said Tufono’s uncle, Justin Tufono. “I’m just so happy that he was able to come home alive.”
This story does have a peaceful ending, however, at least on the part of the Tufuno family. Elijah told FOX40 he wants to pass along a message to the officer.
“Sir, I’m sorry for the way that I acted towards you and for not cooperating. And I just hope that we could meet again and be on better terms,” said Elijah.
Hopefully, the department responds in a similar manner. Although that is unlikely.