SAN FRANCISCO -- A grand jury has indicted two central California police officers on felony assault charges in the alleged beating of a Black teenager so severe that he was left with massive bruising on his face, the San Joaquin County district attorney announced Friday.
Tori Verber Salazar said former Stockton Police Department officers Michael Stiles and Omar Villapudua were each indicted on felony counts of assault by a public officer and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury. The men were fired in March after a police investigation found both had used excessive force on Devin Carter, 17 at the time, outside the department’s training and policy.
“This grand jury indictment reminds us all that when police use unlawful force, they undermine community trust,” she said in a statement. "As the daughter of a police officer, I know how important that responsibility is to restore community trust, safety, and honor to the profession.”
The charges come amid growing outrage in the U.S. over the use of excessive police force, especially against African Americans. In April, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man, and sentenced to 22 1/2 years.
The Stockton Police Officers’ Association defended the officers, saying in a statement that their actions were justified because Carter “actively resisted arrest" and “presented an imminent threat of death or seriously bodily injury.”
The indictments remain under seal with the defendants scheduled to appear in court Nov. 5, according to a press release by the district attorney's office. Salazar said Friday that two of the four officers involved were indicted.
Carter was driving to his father's house when he was stopped by Stockton police the night of Dec. 30. Police say he was speeding in excess of 100 mph (160 kph) and led them on a three-minute chase before he was forced to stop.
Photos released by Carter’s attorney, civil rights lawyer John Burris of Oakland, show the teen with deep purple bruising around his eyes and what appears to be a shoe or boot print on the left side of his face.
Body cam footage shows officers pulling Carter from the car. They can be heard yelling expletives at the teen and telling him to stop resisting. Carter is heard screaming in pain and fear, and telling officers that he’s not resisting.
Burris said officers punched, kneed and kicked Carter in the face, neck, and back as he lay in a fetal position. The department advises officers “to avoid striking an arrestee around the head and neck area when possible.”
“All the time he’s crying. It’s pretty awful what they did to him, and it was an old-fashioned beat-up that cops did,” said Burris, who won a $3.8 million judgment against the Los Angeles police department after officers there beat motorist Rodney King in 1991.
“We’re delighted that prosecution is occurring, and we hope it sends a clear message to others in this department that there are consequences,” he said.
The SPOA said Carter caused a crash between a police vehicle and another car, and when officers tried to detain him he resisted and repeatedly tried to reach into his waistband.
“In order to stop the fight and prevent death or serious bodily injury to Mr. Carter of the officers, officers were required to use bodily force to overcome Mr. Carter's resistance and effect his arrest,” the police union said.
Carter was speeding in part because he didn’t want to pull over in the dark, Burris said. The teen was terrified that he could die, like Floyd, Burris said. The teen was taken to a hospital for evaluation before being booked into juvenile hall for evading and resisting arrest.
“No mother should see or hear her son beaten by the police and helplessly crying from the pain," the teen's mother, Jessica Carter, said.