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Video shows combative suspect during controversial Riverside Co. arrest

Footage of man's arrest at a Murrieta pharmacy is released, showing the man within reach of the officer's gun

MURRIETA, Calif. - Videotape of the arrest of a Murrieta man who allegedly caused a police officer to break his hand was released today, showing the combative suspect struggling to get away from the patrolman and ultimately being taken down by several backup  officers, whose tactics have come under fire from the suspect's family and others.
   Alejandro Rojo, 22, was taken into custody shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday after he allegedly fought with officers at the CVS store in the 25000 block of Hancock Avenue.
   Security surveillance tape from the outlet was made available today, displaying part of the encounter between the suspect and officer, who has not been identified.
   In addition to the store video, a recording made by a woman, identified as Rosie Vincent, sitting in her car in front of the CVS was also circulated via the Internet, revealing officers employing forceful measures to restrain Rojo, whose family denounced the lawmen for their methods.
   ``He was struggling because he was so freaked out,'' the suspect's mother, Minu Rojo, told KABC7. ``He wasn't hurting nobody in no way.''
   The suspect's sister, Sandra Rojo, lambasted the officers for ``not serving and protecting but hurting'' her sibling.
   According to Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad, the patrolman who first tried to detain Rojo was flagged down by a CVS employee because the suspect was allegedly ripping open over-the-counter medications and swallowing them.
   Conrad said that when the officer attempted to detain Rojo near the entrance to the store, the suspect turned aggressive, ``fighting with the officer (and) grabbing onto the officer's holstered firearm.''
   He said the lawman was able to call for backup while wrestling with Rojo, who bolted outside the store after the officer pulled away and prevented him from getting hold of his sidearm.
   The security video indicated that Rojo did, for perhaps a second, have his hand on the officer's belt -- within reach of the pistol.
   ``The officer chased the man outside into the parking lot, where a second struggle ensued between the officer and suspect, who again tried to disarm the officer,'' Conrad said. ``Additional assisting officers arrived and attempted multiple force techniques in an attempt to stop the suspect from attempting to disarm the officer. Ultimately, the officers were able to overcome the suspect and place him under arrest.''
   The eyewitness's video did not capture the moment when Rojo allegedly fought for possession of the officer's gun outside the CVS, but it did show three assisting officers leaping onto the suspect, who evidently would not stop struggling to get away.
   As officers grapple with the screaming man's hands, one of them deploys a baton and strikes Rojo multiple times in the upper body and head. Images show another officer kicking and apparently stomping on the suspect.
   ``What type of physical threat could Rojo pose as he lay on ground being kicked by officers and beaten with batons?'' said Project Islamic Hope Director Najee Ali, who today called on the California Department of Justice and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office to initiate an excessive use of force investigation.
   ``This is a clear case of police abuse by Murrieta police officers,'' Ali said.
   According to Conrad, in addition to a fractured hand, the initial responding officer suffered several cuts and abrasions, requiring him to be admitted to an inland trauma center for treatment. Rojo was also taken to the hospital for an examination, but he was cleared for booking into the Southwest Detention Center.
   He posted a $20,000 bond and was released Wednesday night. His family said today that he's undergoing treatment for his injuries.
   Conrad said a ``use of force'' investigation is underway to confirm that the officers involved in the arrest reacted appropriately. He would not comment further.


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