Ex-Santa Ana Cop Indicted for Excessive Force, Falsifying Reports

Brian Booker, a former Santa Ana policeman, faces serious criminal charges related to an arrest made five years ago. A federal grand jury indicted the retired law enforcement officer yesterday for violating the civil rights of Edgar Vargas Arzate by using “unreasonable” force during the incident and lying in police reports about it afterward.

On the night of June 19, 2014, Santa Ana police chased after Arzate when the foot pursuit came to an end at the front yard of Sycamore Street home. Later that summer, the Weekly obtained a copy of the crime report. Booker gave the following account of what led to his use of force while arresting Arzate for attempted burglary.

“He stated as he walked towards Arazate to place him into handcuffs, Arazate reached towards Officer Booker and grabbed him by his right leg pulling him down,” the report read. “Officer Booker felt Arazate was about to tackle him and possibly have access to his duty weapon.”

A security camera perched above the front yard recorded the rough arrest and the footage appeared at odds with Booker’s account in the crime report. The cop recounted delivering three-to-four punches to the back of Arzate’s head, though the video showed six. More importantly, it depicted Arzate on the ground, clearly surrendered, before being pummeled.

“He started hitting him right away,” said Miriam Grajales, owner of the footage, of the cop to KTLA-TV Channel 5 at the time of initial news reports. “The guy didn’t even resist.”

The video, which showed Arzate also being struck by batons, went viral when released a month later. “In July 2014, Santa Ana Police Department was made aware of allegations of excessive force and initiated an Internal Affairs administrative investigation,” says Corporal Anthony Bertagna, a spokesman for the department. “The officer was assigned to desk duty and had no contact with the public.”

But the story took wild twists and turns from there.

In addition to attempted burglary charges, the Orange County District Attorney’s office under Tony Rackauckas also charged Arzate with battery on a peace officer, claiming he “inflicted great bodily injury” on Booker. How? Booker stated in the police report that he believed he suffered a broken hand during the arrest, an injury so painful he couldn’t even type up his own account of events.

In another unexpected turn of events, Arzate, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, headed to an Aug. 18 court date for an unrelated matter that summer when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained him at gunpoint along the way. Arzate’s public defender filed a formal complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that ICE’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice.

By September 2015, the FBI notified Santa Ana police that it was investigating the use of force in the Arzate arrest. The following month, DOJ officials told an immigration judge that they needed Arzate for their investigation and freed him from ICE detention. The OCDA also dropped its ridiculous charge against him for injuring Booker’s hand while being punched in the back of the head.

Santa Ana police fully cooperated with the FBI’s investigation and Booker retired last year after 19 years of service with the department.

The 50-year-old Chino Hills man now faces a felony count of deprivation of rights under color of law and two felony counts for falsification of records. On August 12, Booker will be arraigned on the indictment at the United States District Court in Santa Ana. If convicted of all counts against him, he faces a statutory maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison.

2 Replies to “Ex-Santa Ana Cop Indicted for Excessive Force, Falsifying Reports”

  1. What about the other cops who watched, and some of Latino background, which is a disgrace in itself.

    He deserves all he can get n more!!!

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