RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) — In newly released body camera footage, Riverside County sheriff’s deputies can be heard telling 33-year-old Ernie Serrano to relax as they push his bloodied face onto a grocery store conveyor belt.
The video, first obtained by the San Bernardino Sun, shows more of Serrano’s struggle with deputies before his death last Dec. 15.
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The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said it knows Serrano well, having had run-ins with the man in the past. The department said he was a known drug user and had just gotten out of jail the day before the encounter at a Stater Bros. grocery store.
Serrano was accused of causing a disturbance and tussling with a security guard.
In the video, he can be heard pleading with the deputies, “Please, you’re using excessive force! Let me go.”
Serrano’s family said he was not being violent and did not have to die that day.
“He was being a nuisance, a bother, a pain in the ass,” Humerto Guizar, the family’s attorney, said. “But if you’re doing that, that isn’t a death sentence. And that doesn’t merit police officers coming in and attacking you and beating you right away.”
Guizar, with Justice X Legal Group, said Serrano had already been hit with a baton and struck by a taser before he was pinned down and a spit shield was placed over his face. He said Serrano told deputies he could not breathe.
Even so, Guizar said Serrano died in the deputies’ arms, but not because they placed their weight on his back for so long.
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“One of them did that, yes,” he said. “But they didn’t even need to do that to asphyxiate him, because the way they arched his body up, I saw him die.”
Guizar said it was that position which ultimately cut off his air supply.
“What it shows is a complete degradation of the training that these officers have,” he said.
But Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said back in December that there were no signs of asphyxiation, but there were signs of a drug overdose.
“Preliminary findings, and I repeat, preliminary, indicate the cause of death was acute methamphetamine intoxication, causing a fatal arrhythmia while struggling with deputies,” he said.
The moment deputies realize Serrano has stopped breathing was captured on the body camera video, while they were discussing ways to keep him in jail longer through bail enhancements.
First responders were called to the scene and attempted CPR, but Serrano died.
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Guizar said he died at the grocery store, but the sheriff’s department said he died after being taken to a local hospital.