The beating of two brothers puts West Sacramento police actions in the spotlight
It’s the kind of crime story that goes mostly unnoticed, little more than a police blotter item in the local paper. Police approach suspects, a scuffle ensues, suspects are roughed up and get medical attention, and the wheels of justice roll on.
According to a spare statement by the West Sacramento Police Department, officers on June 14 spotted a suspicious vehicle at 3:30 am near the river levee in the neighborhood of Bryte. When they went to check on the vehicle, they spotted two men walking down the river levee and stopped them for questioning. That’s when things got out of hand, according to the police statement.
One of the two men, Ernesto Galvan, refused to take his hands out of his pockets and raise them to where the police could see them. According to the police statement, Galvan appeared to be drunk or on drugs.
By the police account, when an officer tried to remove Galvan’s hand from his pocket (to make sure he had no weapon), Galvan struck the officer in the face with his fist.
In the ensuing melee, Galvan was hit twice with a Taser but, according to the police statement, kept attacking the officers, forcing them to use their batons to protect themselves. In the process, Galvan sustained a head injury and had to be taken to UC Davis Medical Center for treatment.
Shortly after the incident, West Sacramento Police Department spokesperson Lt. Dave Farmer was quoted in the West Sacramento News Ledger as saying that Galvan was “doing fine and should be released from the hospital soon.”
“My brother is going to be an invalid for the rest of his life,” said Ernesto’s brother, Fermin Galvan, three weeks later. Fermin, who was there that night, also was injured during the arrest. Neither he nor his brother speaks much English. Fermin spoke to SN&R with the help of an interpreter.
He said that UC Davis doctors have informed him and his family that Ernesto is now paralyzed on the right side of his body, his left wrist is fractured, and the bones forming Ernesto’s right eye socket are broken. Fermin added that the doctors told him Ernesto will be permanently brain damaged.
“They said we’re going to have to teach him to eat again, like a baby,” Fermin said, adding that Ernesto now eats through a feeding tube.
Fermin gave a very different account of the early-morning confrontation with West Sacramento police.
He said that he had gone to visit his younger brother, Ernesto, late that night to urge him to show up for work the next morning. Ernesto had been skipping work, and Fermin was worried his brother would be fired, he said. Both men, ages 28 and 29, are bricklayers, originally from Jalisco, Mexico.
Fermin said that they were not on the river levee at all, but were talking outside across the street from Ernesto’s small apartment near Bryte Park. They were outside because they didn’t want to disturb Ernesto’s roommate, Fermin explained.
A patrol car approached, Fermin said, and an officer asked if there was a problem. “No problem,” said Ernesto.
“I thought they were just going to tell us, ‘Get out of here’ or something,” Fermin recalled. “But the policeman said, ‘We’re going to arrest you.’ And Ernesto said, ‘Why?’” Fermin said his brother began to walk away from the patrol car. By Fermin’s account, Ernesto had gotten 15 to 20 feet away from the police and had turned around to face them when the officers fired their Tasers.
Fermin said he believes the Taser darts struck Ernesto’s coat sleeves and didn’t have much of an effect on him. He said the officers then drew their batons and started to strike Ernesto.
Fermin said that as the struggle began, he tried to use a couple of English words he knew, “stop and easy.” Fermin said he was then struck with a baton and fell to the ground, when he believes he lost consciousness.
He believes the first blow, the one that hit him across the face, came from behind and to his right. He believes the blow was delivered by an officer who arrived in a second patrol car just as the violence began. Fermin has a broken tooth, and abrasions on his chin and lips where he said the baton struck him. In photographs taken the day after his arrest, Fermin has what appear to be bright red and purple welts on his back as well. Photos of Ernesto show his head heavily bandaged, extensive bruising and cuts on his face, and a respirator tube emerging from his throat.
“The police have a right to use reasonable force,” said Galvan family friend Carlos De La Fuente. “But how can this be considered reasonable?”
That is what many West Sacramento residents want to know. On June 25, a group of about 60 citizens protested what they believe is a pattern of police abuse against young Latino men in the area. The group marched from the West Sacramento police headquarters to City Hall, carrying signs that read “hands off!” and “ya vasta” (“enough!”).
But that and a subsequent protest have been largely ignored by the local press.
De La Fuente is a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, now retired from law, and he’s been helping the Galvans find legal help.
“Even if he was resisting arrest, [Ernesto] is five-seven and 135 pounds. How does he end up with a broken eye socket, a broken wrist and permanent brain damage?”
Last week, with the help of the Mexican Consulate, attorneys for the Galvan family filed a lawsuit against the West Sacramento Police Department and the city of West Sacramento in the U.S. District Court.
The suit seeks over $13 million in damages for Galvan’s injuries and claims, “The use of police batons against the heads of any person, as occurred with both of the plaintiffs, generally violates accepted police practices and procedures and is only permissible under the most dire and life-threatening circumstances.”
Farmer, of the West Sacramento Police Department, refused to comment, beyond referring SN&R to the prepared statement. According to the statement, both the Yolo County district attorney and the police department’s Office of Investigations are looking into the incident. No information was offered about the officers involved in the beating, or whether they are still on duty or face any sort of discipline. Farmer told the West Sacramento News Ledger that when Ernesto was released from the hospital, he would be arrested for assaulting a police officer. The charges strike De La Fuente as a cruel joke.
“He’s practically a vegetable,” said De La Fuente. “He just lays in his hospital room and stares at the ceiling. I don’t think he’ll ever be able to go to court.”