San Joaguin, CA — Surveillance footage has been released that shows a correctional officer at the San Joaquin County Jail striking the head of a handcuffed man who posed no threat, while multiple officers witnessed the assault.
The arrested man was sitting on the floor with his hands secured behind his back and a spit hood covering his head. Not only was it impossible for him to have posed a serious threat to the officers, but he appeared to be sitting calmly and was not struggling to free himself from the restraints.
The man was arrested for “intoxication,” and while it is unclear how long he had been detained, there are two Manteca Police officers standing nearby, watching him when the video began. Correctional Officer Matthew Mettler entered the room, walked over to the man who could not see him coming and hit the side of his head so hard that the man lost his balance and fell to the side.
A fourth officer entered the room and Mettler quickly pulled the man’s body back into a sitting position and then left the room. The two Manteca Police officers who watched the scene unfold appear to do nothing to stop or to criticize Mettler’s actions at the time. However, they proceeded to report the incident, and Mettler was suspended as a result.
In a statement, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the video of the incident, which occurred on Aug. 24, 2017. It revealed that the man, who was significantly intoxicated, was wearing a spit hood to cover his head because the officers claimed that he tried to spit on them.
The statement acknowledged that the arrested man was “apparently posing no threat” when Officer Mettler walked up to him and struck him in the head. It also noted that the two Manteca Police officers who witnessed that assault “immediately reported the matter up the chain of command,” and action was taken accordingly.
After the incident was reported, Mettler was placed on administrative leave. The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office launched internal affairs and criminal investigations, and the statement noted that the evidence gathered from the surveillance footage was crucial in its determination that Mettler’s actions qualified as assault.
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After the Sheriff’s Office turned the evidence from its investigation over to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution, Mettler was charged with a misdemeanor count of "Assault by a Public Officer."
In response to the incident, Sheriff Steve Moore condemned Mettler’s actions and insisted that his conduct does not reflect on the expectations for his fellow officers.
“As Sheriff, I don’t condone the actions as portrayed on this video by our jail staff,” Moore said. “It is inconsistent with the professionalism of San Joaquin County Correctional Officers, and of this department. The action taken by the DA’s office is appropriate and we support their position.”
This incident is notable because it shows a rare example of a police department openly condemning the wrongful actions of one of its officers after he is caught on camera abusing his power. In contrast, when two police officers in Coeymans, New York, were caught racing each other to see who could run over a scared raccoon in an open parking lot, their department took a different approach.
The Coeymans Police Department refused to admit that their officers had done anything wrong, and instead said that they handled the situation “as quickly and humanely as possible,” even when cell phone camera footage proved otherwise.
Watch the surveillance footage of the assault at the San Joaquin County Jail: