Video footage of Ukiah Police Department officers pepper-spraying, tasing, and hitting a naked man with closed fists has drawn community ire with many seeing the officers’ use of force as excessive.
According to reporting by Justine Fredrickson of the Ukiah Daily Journal, officers were dispatched to the 1400 block of South State Street in response to reports of a naked man walking in the road. Officers found Ukiah man Gerardo Magdaleno when UPD Lieutenant Andy Phillips said he became “aggressive and took a fighting stance.”
Frederickson’s reporting on the circumstance indicates Ukiah Police Lt. Phillips believes Magdaleno was under the influence of methamphetamine. Phillips told Frederickson it is “very common for people under the influence of meth to get very hot and take their clothes off. [Magdaleno]e was taken to the hospital to make sure he wasn’t suffering from meth psychosis.”
Veronikita Diaz, Gerardo Magdaleno’s sister, told us a nurse informed their family that her brother experienced facial fractures and a concussion as a result of the incident.
The first video of the interaction between Magdaleno and a UPD officer begins with the civilian falling onto his back possibly due to being shocked by a taser. Magdaleno stands back up, seemingly dazed and argumentative when the officer apparently begins pepper-spraying him while yelling, “Get on the ground!”
The second video begins with Magdaleno surrounded by three UPD officers, two are pulling outwardly on his arms and another is trying to get control of his torso or legs. Magdaleno maneuvers out of that position and falls to the ground on his back. Two of the officers kneel down next to him punching his torso and his head. A fourth officer appears on the scene and the group of officers successfully flip Magdaleno onto his stomach to handcuff him. One officer is clearly punching Magdaleno in the back of the neck and head while three others dogpile on him in an attempt to subdue him. In the midst of the scrum, a visible flash can be seen on Magdaleno’s back indicating one of the officers tased him while another continued to punch the back of his head. Finally, a fifth officer appears on the scene just as the struggle between the officers and Magdaleno begins to subside.
Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Captain Greg Van Patten told us that deputies have had several prior contacts with Magdaleno which he characterized as “possibly mental health-related.” Regarding yesterday’s incident, Captain Van Patten said deputies were dispatched to reports of a naked individual on Laws Avenue and South State Street, “right near the store” where the video was filmed. According to Captain Van Patten, deputies arrived at the incident after Magdaleno was detained and he demonstrated signs of “physical exertion being sweaty and overheated. Deputies gave him water to help him cool down.”
Gerardo Magdaleno’s sister Veronikita Diaz said her brother was under the influence of LSD during the encounter. She said he suffers from depression and “if he runs out of his lithium [a depression medication] he has a deep depression crisis and he tries to remedy with anything he can find.” She said that the Ukiah Police Department “knew him and his disorders well” and there “was no need for that.”
Diaz said, “Police brutality needs to stop. We are a small community. This could have been de-escalated very easily.”
According to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Booking Log, Magdaleno was booked into the county jail yesterday for charges associated with the videotaped incident. They included possessing drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct due to alcohol, and resisting or threatening an officer.
Mendocino County Sheriff’s Captain Van Patten confirmed that on March 2, 2021 Magdaleno was booked into the Mendocino County jail for charges relating to sodomy against a victim under 10-years-old . Captain Van Patten there was no District Attorney filing after Magdaleno’s arrest for these charges.
A document from the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office entitled “Local Defendants Removed to State Prison in 2017” indicates Magdaleno was given a 32-month prison term for “Resisting by Use of Force.”
Magdaleno was featured in the Anderson Valley Advertiser’s booking log column “Catch of the Day” for December 23, 2019, where he was supposedly arrested in Boonville for a community supervision violation.
We reached out to criminal defense attorney Andrea Sullivan, who has defended people throughout the Emerald Triangle. We asked her for her thoughts on the Ukiah Police Department officers’ use of force as seen in the video.
Sullivan’s primary concern with the first video was the officer not attempting to deescalate the situation. Sullivan noted that she did not see the lead up to the video, but the “officers use of f-bombs was clearly agitating [Magdaleno].” When officers deal with individuals experiencing mental episodes, Sullivan said, “[B]est practices say they should calmly talk with them.”
Sullivan expressed concern that at the beginning of the second video there were no obvious signs that the officers were attempting to handcuff Magdaleno. She said they appeared to be “beating someone for the sake of beating him.” Sullivan was especially shocked that an officer began to tase Magdelano while other officers dogpiled on him because “other officers can be injured” when they are physically touching someone who is being tased.
The Ukiah Police Department’s Policy Manual has an entire section dedicated to use of force concerns. Section 300.3 dictates that “officers shall use only that amount of force that reasonably appears necessary given the facts and totality of the circumstances known to or perceived by the officer at the time of the event to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
When assessing the “reasonableness of force,” the policy says evaluations must “allow for the fact that officers are often forced to make a split-second decision about the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary in a particular situation.”
Policy 302 requires the establishment of a “Use of Force Review Board” in which UPD will “objectively evaluate the use of force by its members to ensure that their authority is used lawfully, appropriately, and is consistent with training and policy.”
Policy 302.3 says that when an employee’s actions result in death or very serious injury to another the employee will be placed in a temporary administrative assignment.
Ukiah Police Department has faced public scrutiny in the last few months after former Sergeant Kevin Murray was dismissed when accusations emerged of his involvement in a November 2020 incident of sexual battery, burglary, and drug possession resulting in charges being filed with the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. A second set of charges were filed one month later accusing Murray of rape and forcible oral copulation in 2014.
We reached out to the Ukiah Police Department for comment last night via email with the intention to publish at 10:00 a.m. if we did not get a response. Over the phone this morning, Lieutenant Andrew Phillips told us that a press release would be published by noon, and in the interest of including UPD’s perspective, we chose to hold off. At 1:00 p.m. Lieutenant Phillips emailed us, apologized the press release was not ready and said it would be ready in “an hour or so.” As of 2:27 p.m.the press release has yet to be released so we have chosen to publish it because an important story can get buried if it goes out too late on a Friday afternoon.