Local government

Ontario police open internal review regarding use of force incident

ONTARIO – The Ontario Police Department is conducting an internal review into allegations that police may have used unnecessary force in dealing with a man in a medical crisis.

The May 11 incident became public during the Ontario City Council meeting of Tuesday, May 14.

City Councilor Eddie Melendrez read a letter from Roberto Escobedo, a Nyssa city councilor, who said he witnessed police pull an elderly man out of his pickup, throw him to the ground and then sit on him outside of the Body Shop gym on Southwest Fourth Avenue.
Escobedo, who works at the gym, said the man’s pickup was stopped on a grassy area in the parking lot of the business.

Escobedo said the man in the pickup is his neighbor in Nyssa and he was in a diabetic crisis.

“I’ve known this gentleman all of my life,” said Escobedo said last week after the Ontario City Council meeting.

Escobedo described the event in his letter, writing that “one of the officers continued to sit on the gentleman for some time.”

Escobedo wrote that the use of force was “unnecessary for the situation. The gentleman was not being combative, nor was he arguing or yelling at the officers.”

Escobedo said from what he observed the Nyssa man was not resisting when police arrived.

“It wasn’t like he was yelling at them or swinging at them. From what I saw, I didn’t see him being combative in any way,” said Escobedo.

He said after he realized who the man was, he called the man’s daughter in Nyssa. She informed Escobedo that her father was a severe diabetic and she was on her way from Nyssa to pick up him. He said he then told police the daughter was on the way.

Escobedo said police eventually stopped sitting on the man and called an ambulance to take him to a hospital.

Escobedo also described police officers huddled together after the incident and laughing.

In his letter to the Ontario council, Escobedo asked if force was necessary, why officers sat on the man as long as they did, what was the proper procedure in such cases and how should the situation have been handled under Ontario police policy.

Escobedo said he was motivated to write his letter out of concern for his grandfather, who is also diabetic.

“Do I need to send a chaperone with my grandpa when he goes to town?” said Escobedo.

According to Ontario Police Chief Mike Iwai, two police officers and a police sergeant were involved.

Iwai said Lt. James Swank is reviewing the incident.

“If there is any wrongdoing, excessive force, gross training deficiencies in this incident then it will be dealt with accordingly,” said Iwai.

Iwai said the incident could “turn into a personnel investigation that could lead to discipline.”

“More likely than not it will be reviewed with some coaching and mentoring opportunities from the supervisor who does the review to the affected employee. If there is a policy violation it could lead to a formal discipline versus informal discipline,” he said.

Iwai declined to provide details on the case.

“For me to really comment without having all of the investigatory reports would not be fair to the case, to the community or to the officers,” he said.

Iwai said his agency uses a five-step process to review such incidents. First, all reports on the incident are submitted. Then an internal use-of-force report and any audio or video of the incident will be submitted to a supervisor and examined. If any policy violations are found, a personnel complaint to an officer or officers will be issued which could lead to disciplinary action. Finally, once a supervisor has completed an internal review the incident report is sent to “the next level supervisor,” which includes Iwai.

According to Ontario police statistics, 41 use-of-force reviews were conducted in 2023, and three of those led to informal discipline. None led to more formal discipline.

The police department handles about 11,000 cases annually, said Iwai.

According to department policy, use of force must be “objectively reasonable.”

“The objectively standard must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The question is whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them,” according to the policy.”

Melendrez said he does not want to jump to conclusions regarding the incident.

“I continuously support OPD to be successful and to have everything they need,” he said.

Yet he said he viewed a partial video of the incident which he said was “blurry.” Still, he said, what he saw on the video disturbed him.

“Seeing part of the video, this one impacted me deeply,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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