TASER camera catches Calif. cop hitting suspect

By Steve E. Swenson
Bakersfield Californian

SHAFTER, Calif. — A suspended Shafter police officer is facing felony assault charges after videotaping himself clubbing a prone suspect who didn't resist, officers said Wednesday.

Matthew Kirk Shelton, 30, a 3 and 1/2 year veteran of the department -- and who was recently cleared in a fatal shooting of a woman -- will be arraigned Friday on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, assault by a peace officer and falsifying a report.

The incident happened in January, but the victim never complained. It was an internal audit by the Shafter Police Department which brought it to light, Chief Charlie Fivecoat said.

Shelton was carrying a TASER that's mounted with a camera. When the safety switch is flipped off, the camera starts videotaping, Fivecoat said. That camera caught an unwarranted beating on tape, he said.

The chief gave the following account:

The officer went to a burglary at Golden Oak Elementary School. Thinking he might have to use his TASER, Shelton took off the safety switch.

The suspect, 18-year-old Emmanuel Perez, came into the camera's view. Shelton is heard on the video ordering the suspect to the ground and Perez complied.

But as he was "proned out on the ground," Shelton approached him and with the TASER in his left hand and a baton in his right hand, Fivecoat said. Shelton hit Perez "multiple times" with the baton, the chief said.

Perez was later treated for a cut to his head. Shelton wrote a false report saying Perez cut his head when he had to throw him to the ground.

Perez never made a complaint about the incident.

"He may have been drugged out and didn't know what happened," Fivecoat said.

Perez was treated by Hall Ambulance. He did have some bruises to his body, but he had heavy winter clothing on and did not need to go to hospital, the chief said.

Shafter police do a periodic review of use of force by their officers. In June they discovered that the TASER video didn't match Shelton's report, Fivecoat said.

Shelton has been on administrative leave since June 23 pending an appeal of proposed disciplinary action, Fivecoat said. He cannot divulge that discipline until it's final, he said.

Fivecoat decided to hire a law firm to conduct an administrative review. He also called in the Kern County District Attorney's office to conduct the criminal review.

"If there's any good news in this, it's that we discovered the incident and took appropriate action," Fivecoat said. "We have a public trust to maintain and we had to do the right thing."

Shelton and Officer Jeff Priest shot and killed 52-year-old Dora Luis on May 17 after she lunged at them with a knife. She had mental health problems. The Kern County District Attorney's staff found the shooting was justifiable in July.

Copyright 2009 Bakersfield Californian

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