Image via screengrab
Image via screengrab

“He’s on top of me and it looks like he’s about to hit me. Like, I’m reacting like any other normal human being would.”

A deputy sheriff with Rancho Cordova Police Department in California is under investigation after a viral video showed him punching and choking a 14-year-old boy.

The video, posted to Twitter on Monday by a family friend, shows the officer, identified by FOX40 as Deputy Brian Fowell, pinning Elijah Tufono to the ground and violently trying to detain him. 

[WARNING: The video below includes violence and may be difficult to watch for some viewers.]

The incident occurred around noon on Monday in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento, according to Tufono’s 20-year-old sister Yralina Tufono. She told NBC News that she did not witness the incident, but that it was recorded by one of her brother’s friends.

The incident was reportedly sparked by a Swisher cigar Tufono was carrying. The 14-year-old told FOX40 that he had asked a stranger to purchase tobacco for him and had just received it when the cop pulled up. 

Fowell was patrolling the area where the incident occurred due to complaints from citizens about hand-to-hand sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors, according to a statement released Tuesday night by Sacramento County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding.

“The deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile. As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area,” Deterding said.” When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information. He told the deputy he was 18 years old.”

Tufono’s account largely lines up with the Sheriff’s Office, but he also said Fowell was unnecessarily confrontational and aggressive.

“He asked me what was that in my hand. And I had gave him, as soon as he asked me that, I just gave it to him,” Tufono told FOX40. “I did lie to him and I didn’t cooperate, and I know that and I made that mistake. But that didn’t give him no right to do what he did.”

Fowell tried to detain Tufono, but he became “physically resistive at that time,” the Sheriff’s Office said. 

Tufono said that Fowell tried to put handcuffs on him without explaining why. “When he did that, I pulled my right hand back and that’s when he started getting aggressive and trying to fight,” Tufono told FOX40.

According to the Sheriff’s office, Fowell lost control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away, but tried to “maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him.”

Tufono described it a little differently: “He’s on top of me and it looks like he’s about to hit me. Like, I’m reacting like any other normal human being would.”

Tufono’s sister also uploaded videos of the incident to Facebook, where she said Elijah was not resisting arrest, but “was simply trying to get his arms free because he was in pain!!” She also added that her brother has a “serious heart condition that can be triggered very easily by getting hit in his chest or back.” 

Leata Tufono Tagalu, Elijah’s aunt, also addressed the incident on Facebook, saying her nephew suffered from supraventricular tachycardia, an abnormally fast heartbeat, but that it was not triggered during the incident. 

“We are all in shock and of course we never thought it would happen to our own child/children,” Tagalu wrote.

Tufono was ultimately cited and released to his guardians, but the video has been watched more than 6 million times and has sparked enormous backlash, with former presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Julian Castro weighing in and demanding accountability.

“How many of these videos must we see before we do something about police violence in this country?” Castro wrote. 

The incident involving Tufono is just the latest in a long line of videos showing police discriminating and beating Black Americans, and sometimes worse. These incidents have frequently spurred similar backlash, but rarely resulted in tangible punishment against officers. 

Earlier this month, video emerged of four Philadelphia police officers violently yanking a man off a public bus because he was not wearing a face covering. In another video that went viral this month, an officer in Miami can be seen detaining a Black man with a face mask after he was seen unloading his van. The man turned out to be a doctor who has volunteered to test homeless people for COVID-19. 

Both the Philadelphia and Miami police departments are investigating the respective incidents. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Office and Rancho Cordova Police Department have also begun an investigation into Fowell’s use of force, but also appeared to try and deflect responsibility for the graphic violence seen in the video.

“This type of situation is hard on everyone—the young man, who resisted arrest, and the officer, who would much rather have him cooperate,” Deterding said in the statement. “Maintaining the public trust and remaining transparent are of paramount importance to the Sheriff’s Office and Rancho Cordova Police Department.”

Tufuno, meanwhile, said he forgave the Officer and seemed to express more contrition and remorse than the Sheriff’s office.

“I mean, I do forgive him. I have nothing against the cop. He was just doing his job, I guess,” he said. He also asked FOX40 to pass along the following message: “Sir, I’m sorry for the way that I acted towards you and for not cooperating. And I just hope that we could meet again and be on better terms.”