Although Riverside County sheriff’s deputies did not know it, a California Highway Patrol officer tape-recorded a clash between the deputies and suspected illegal immigrants, and a copy of his tape shows that the deputies tried to order the suspects down to the ground but did not give any commands in Spanish until after striking the man and woman.
Just moments after the beating was over, CHP officer Marco DeGennaro described it to a supervisor by saying the sheriff’s deputies “were whaling on those guys,” according to the tape, a copy of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times. That supervisor responded by asking whether cameras had recorded the incident. DeGennaro said that they had but that “nothing happened on CHP side.”
In addition, sources said DeGennaro, who is considered potentially the most important witness in the case, told investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI that he could see the hands of one suspect and did not perceive him as threatening. DeGennaro also told investigators that he himself never felt threatened, and he described the male beating victim as looking confused and disoriented as a deputy clubbed him with a baton, sources said.
DeGennaro, a 26-year-old relative newcomer to the highway patrol, has provided material not only to investigators but also to lawyers for deputies Kurt Franklin and Tracy Watson, both of whom have been suspended with pay while the investigation goes forward.
The highway patrol officer was interviewed by investigators last week and again Monday and has agreed to be interviewed by the defense lawyers as soon as it can be arranged, according to DeGennaro’s lawyer, Harland W. Braun.
Although his tape and testimony could prove damaging to the deputies in some respects, DeGennaro’s evidence also may help them in at least two ways: The tape-recorded comments suggest that the deputies were trying, however unsuccessfully, to order the suspects to the ground, and they bolster the contention that they had lost radio contact with their supervisors by the time the chase ended.
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