Two tales of the tape
Family alleges police used excessive force and hid injuries in high-profile arrest
“Sean [Reardon] is no saint,” longtime friend Kate Cahill freely admits, a confession echoed by Reardon’s older sister Shara Martinez during a recent interview with the two women. Thirty-year-old Reardon has struggled with addiction issues and run-ins with the law that have landed him on the Butte County Sheriff Office’s “Most Wanted” list on more than one occasion, the women said, and they also agreed his latest misadventure—a Feb. 18 arrest on a slew of new and old charges following a short vehicle pursuit in the south campus area—may send him to jail for a long time.
However, they also contend Reardon didn’t deserve the beating he was dealt at the hands of Chico police officers during that arrest, which was partially captured on video and broadcast on local television news. Additionally, they say that friends and family were not allowed to see or speak to him until five days after he was taken into custody, in what they believe was an attempt by Chico police to hide the extent of his injuries.
According to a CPD press release and Capt. Mike O’Brien, Officer Jack Ditty attempted to stop Reardon, who was driving a blue Chevy Suburban, for a vehicle code violation around 9:45 p.m. that Wednesday at Fifth and Main streets. The vehicle reportedly stopped, then pulled away from the officer multiple times, and collided with two vehicles—one occupied, one not—before stopping near Sixth Street and Normal Avenue.
At that point, police say Reardon exited the vehicle, alternately complying with officers to lie on the ground then rising and approaching while reaching into his pockets and waistband. He eventually got on the ground willingly, but a melee ensued as officers attempted to cuff him.
“The suspect was struck several times in the lower legs with a baton during the struggle,” the release reads. “Eventually, with the help of several officers the suspect was taken into custody.”
The video clip, which captures only about 15 seconds of the incident, was broadcast by Action News Now on Feb. 19. It shows an officer wielding a baton with two hands, and lining up like a batter at the plate to strike Reardon six times in the legs, as another officer attempts to cuff him. One of the officers is heard yelling, “Roll him over!”
Reardon was charged with recklessly evading police, hit and run, resisting arrest, driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license, as well as failure to appear on a June 2014 arrest for DUI and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The women said word of Reardon’s arrest and beating spread among his family the morning after, and concerned loved ones grew more worried after seeing the video on the news. Cahill, a social worker and longtime family friend who refers to Reardon as her nephew, began contacting CPD, Butte County Sheriff’s Office, the county jail and local hospitals to help locate him. She claims nobody would answer questions about his well-being, or confirm his whereabouts, until she spoke with O’Brien late in the day on Feb. 20.
“We were scared to death,” said Cahill, who noted that O’Brien told her Reardon was unscathed and the video was shot from “a bad angle.” “We didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” she said.
Cahill was finally able to visit Reardon on Monday, Feb. 23. She said Reardon claims he complied with police but panicked when cuffed, which prompted the blows. Cahill says Reardon told her he was in and out of consciousness as the officer continued to strike him all over his body.
She also says—and took photos to prove—that Reardon is far from unscathed, and that the injuries are not limited to his legs. Five photos she shared with the CN&R show cuts and bruises all over his body, including his face and head. She said he suffered a broken nose and broken ribs, the latter causing him to contract pneumonia.
Though they admitted he’s no candidate for canonization, Martinez and Cahill painted a different picture of Reardon than his rap sheet might suggest. They characterize him as troubled, but also as nonviolent and an essentially good-natured young man who serves as the primary caregiver for his disabled mother. They say Reardon had every intention of facing up to his legal obligations, but needed time to ensure his mother would be properly cared for if he ended up serving a long sentence.
O’Brien said police did not use excessive force during Reardon’s arrest, and in fact praised the officers for the “restraint” they displayed during the incident.
“This was a potentially deadly situation,” he said, noting that Reardon acted threateningly toward officers after leaving his vehicle, at several points reaching into his clothing as if he had a weapon. “I’d like to commend the officers for the not using deadly force when this was clearly a dangerous situation for everyone. Their training, judgment and restraint kept this from becoming a critical shooting incident.”
O’Brien related the police narrative of the entire pursuit and arrest, noting that the video circulating is “a short snapshot of a much longer episode.” He also said Reardon was apparently experiencing drug-induced hallucinations during the arrest, refused to believe the arresting officers were actually police, and that he was still combative when taken to the hospital afterward. “In the following days, he didn’t remember much of anything that happened during the arrest, from what I understand,” O’Brien said.
As for the family’s inability to contact him, O’Brien said it is standard CPD policy to keep an inmate’s location confidential and not allow visitors if they’re hospitalized after being taken into custody. He said the length of Reardon’s hospital stay was out-of-the-ordinary, and that the reason he was hospitalized so long was “the impacts of the substances he had ingested” rather than the impacts of a police baton.
O’Brien said he doesn’t have access to inmates’ medical records, so he couldn’t confirm what substances Reardon was on or what other injuries he sustained. Though he said some of Reardon’s injuries may have resulted from the two vehicle crashes during the pursuit, he also said it’s “very possible Reardon was otherwise injured during the very violent struggle.”
Cahill and Martinez said their family remains unsatisfied, and may seek legal action against the CPD. Reardon will appear in court for a preliminary hearing March 12.