Video released Wednesday provides the first public glimpse of a violent encounter last fall between a Boyes Hot Springs man and a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy, who was later charged with beating the man as he lay in his own bed.
The 68-second cellphone video was taken by Fernando Del Valle, 38, the night of Sept. 24 after neighbors summoned deputies to his Highland Boulevard home on reports the Marine Corps veteran was arguing with his wife.
It opens as Del Valle talks to two deputies who are alleged to have broken down his bedroom door and are ordering him to stand up.
Del Valle refuses, instead training his camera on them and warning, “I got you on video. Go ahead. Tase me.”
Within seconds, former Deputy Scott Thorne, 40, steps forward and fires his stun gun at Del Valle, hitting him on his bare chest.
Del Valle can be heard screaming and the camera angle shifts around the room and toward the bed as he squirms and begins to suffer what his lawyer said were numerous baton blows from Thorne. The sounds of the strikes are captured on the audio track.
Toward the end of the video, Del Valle’s wife can be heard calling out to him and telling deputies, “He’s not doing anything.” Del Valle instructs her to take his phone and give it to his lawyer.
The video goes black as he shouts repeatedly, “Call my lawyer!”
Del Valle was taken to jail but cleared of any charges after prosecutors reviewed body camera recordings made by Thorne and two other deputies at the scene.
Thorne, who a Press Democrat investigation revealed had a track record of excessive force complaints in previous jobs, was fired. He was charged with felony assault by a law officer and is awaiting trial in late June.
The other deputies, Anthony Diehm and Beau Zastrow, were not charged.
Del Valle’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said the cellphone video provides a partial yet critical view of what happened. Combined with the body cam recordings, he said “there is no question about what happened here.”
“I think it speaks volumes.”
A spokesman for Sheriff Steve Freitas could not comment on the cellphone video but agreed the deputies’ three videos raised concerns from the start about excessive force. After watching them, department brass immediately turned the case over to Santa Rosa police for criminal investigation, Sgt. Spencer Crum said.
“We acted very swiftly and Scott Thorne was no longer employed by us,” Crum said. “We are very concerned this is an excessive force case. We acknowledged it from Day One.”
The Sheriff’s Office declined Wednesday to release the deputies’ videos.
The release of Del Valle’s video followed by several weeks his filing of a civil claim for damages with Sonoma County government. The forms seek an unspecified amount over $25,000 that is expected to be several million dollars. A formal lawsuit would likely follow if a settlement is not reached.
Thorne has argued all along he acted in compliance with his training and Del Valle presented a risk to him, said his lawyer, Chris Andrian.
“His position is he followed procedure,” Andrian said.
However, Freitas has said it was clear Thorne violated department policy and possibly committed a crime. According to Del Valle’s formal claim, he had gotten into an argument with his wife, who had been drinking, after he failed to notice her new haircut.
He retreated to another room as her yelling grew louder and neighbors called deputies, who arrived about 10:30 p.m.
They forced their way through the front door when Del Valle’s wife would not let them in and kicked down Del Valle’s bedroom door when he refused to open it.
Del Valle was lying on his bed, clad in gym shorts and using his cellphone camera. On the video, deputies can be heard ordering him to stand up.
He responds: “Sir, I’m just laying here trying to sleep and you’re …,” Del Valle said. “I’m not standing up. I’m in my house. I’m sleeping.”
Thorne then can be seen stepping into view, his Taser drawn, and firing on Del Valle.
Del Valle was not able to record the entire encounter in which he was stunned two to three more times and suffered up to 15 baton blows, causing neurological damage and a separated shoulder, Schwaiger said.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.