www.nytimes.com

A police officer in the Northern California city of Rancho Cordova is being investigated by law enforcement authorities after he was recorded on a widely circulated video punching a 14-year-old boy while pinning him to the ground as he tried to detain him.

Sgt. Tess Deterding, the spokeswoman for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, said in a statement that the officer had been patrolling on Monday in a neighborhood where residents had complained about sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors.

She said the officer was part of the Rancho Cordova Police Department’s Problem Oriented Policing Unit, which focuses on public safety patrols. She did not identify the officer, and did not respond early on Wednesday to questions about whether he was still on patrol duty.

She said in the statement that the officer saw what he believed to be a “hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile.” He lost sight of the adult, but approached the youth, who became “uncooperative” and refused to identify himself, aside from saying he was 18, she said.

The officer tried to detain the youth, whom he suspected of “criminal activity,” she said.

“The juvenile became physically resistive at that time, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away,” she said. “The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him.”

She did not address the contents of the video, which made the rounds on social media in posts that accused the officer, who is white, of using excessive force on a youth of color carrying a Swisher Sweet, a type of cigar.

One version of the video, less than a minute long, shows the boy on the ground next to a street as the officer pins his arm behind his back, presses his neck to the ground and lands a few punches to his torso.

In a video posted to Instagram by a man who identified himself as the youth’s uncle, the boy can be heard saying, “I wasn’t fighting” as his arms flail slightly while the officer sits astride him, holding him down by the neck.

In her statement, Sergeant Deterding said, “It’s important to put video footage into context, especially in relation to a use of force incident.”

She said that the deputy took tobacco products from the teenager, whom she did not identify, and that the boy was issued a citation and released to his guardians.

In an interview with Fox 40 in Sacramento, Elijah Tufono, 14, said he was the boy in the video. He said that he reacted “like any other normal human being would” while the officer was on top of him.

“It could have been better on both of our parts in this situation,” he said.

He said he had asked an adult to purchase the tobacco for him. He said he made a mistake in not cooperating with the officer and was not truthful in telling him his age, although he handed over the tobacco. “I did lie to him,” he said.

Elijah said he pulled his right hand back to avoid being cuffed, and that was when the officer started to get “aggressive.”

“I do forgive him. I have nothing against the cop; he was just doing his job, I guess,” he said. Addressing the officer, he said he was sorry, adding that he hoped to meet the officer and “be on better terms.”

His uncle, Justin Tufono, told Fox 40 that Elijah has a “heart condition.”

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office and the police department in Rancho Cordova, a city of about 73,500 in the Sacramento metropolitan area, are conducting the investigation, Sergeant Deterding said.


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