STOCKTON, Calif. — Two Stockton Police Department officers have been fired from the department following an internal investigation into alleged excessive force used during a December 2020 pursuit arrest of a teenager.
Officer Michael Stiles and Officer Omar Villapudua were “separated from their employment” due to the investigation into the chase, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said.
“The investigation determined [Stiles and Villapudua] were well outside the scope of both our policy and training,” Jones said in a press release. “Given this set of circumstances, I cannot and will not condone any excessive force.”
The incident happened on Dec. 30, 2020. Devin Carter, 17, was driving on Eight Mile Road at Davis Road in North Stockton when he was pulled over by Stockton police for speeding. Police said Carter was driving "erratically and speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour."
The teen led officers on a brief chase, with one officer colliding with a bystander’s car, before being stopped with the assistance of a PIT maneuver. After being stopped, investigators said that four pursuing officers “used force during the arrest.” Those officers were all placed on administrative leave while an investigation into the arrest took place.
“Holding ourselves accountable and providing service to our community is paramount,” Jones said.
While Jones did not say specifically what force was used, he did allude to some things, saying the department has policies that officers should avoid “striking an arrestee around the head and neck area.” He also said, “use of profanity is considered unwarranted and not professional.”
"What I saw today was an effort to kill my son, is what it looked like," Jessica Carter, the mother of Devin Carter said.
Jessica and George Carter, the parents of 17-year-old Devin Carter had their first look at body camera video worn by the four officers accused of using excessive force on their son last December.
While it was not publicly released because he's a minor, they watched it on the same day two out of the four officers were fired.
"What I watched today, what I saw, the physical proof, all four officers need to be fired, and prosecuted on top of that," she said.
Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones says he wants to hold his own department accountable.
"Striking somebody around the head and the neck can deliver very serious, serious injuries and so the use of such should only be used in very limited situations, in this case, I found it was not warranted when such was done," Jones said.
As for the other two officers involved, they went back to work Tuesday morning, after more than three months on administrative leave. Jones says they received separate levels of discipline and/or training.
"We've actually been taking the opportunity to really sharpen up our training, de-escalation training is very important for policing for a number of reasons, especially if we consider how dangerous this event was that night," he said.
Community advocates, however, believe more work needs to be done.
"But I just say, it's a start, it's a good start," Pastor Curtis Smith, Director of Faith in the Valley said.
Smith says after seeing the footprint on Carter's face, knowing there were four officers there, he wants to see what's called a duty to intervene policy.
"They should intervene whenever they see wrongdoing by their fellow officers," he said.
Keep in mind, this case is still only in its very early stages, as it is still under criminal review by the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office.
"We are expecting justice, we are expecting the DA and the office to do the right thing, to prosecute, to file and pursue criminal charges," Jessica Carter said. "Not only did they violate protocol and policies but they violated his human rights and could have killed him."
Jones says he is not releasing the body-camera video because the case is going through pending litigation and because Carter is a juvenile so he says it's exempt from Senate Bill 1421, which requires law enforcement agencies to release videos like these to the public within 60 days.
The case is under investigation by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. There has been no word yet on if Stiles and Villapudua will face charges related to this incident.
Stiles had been with the department since 2018 and Villapudua since 2016. Both officers were assigned to the Community Response Team, according to Jones.
Attorney John Burris, who represented Rodney King in his civil suit against the LAPD, is representing the Carter family. He filed a civil suit in January 2021 and said he also plans to file a federal lawsuit against the city and the police in part for an alleged "pattern of misconduct" and "abuse of force."