Assault charges for 3 deputies in horse-chase beating

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SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — Three sheriff's deputies involved in the televised beating of a man after he tried to escape on horseback have been charged with felony assault.

Nicholas Downey, Michael Phelps and Charles Foster each face a charge of assault by a public officer, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos said Tuesday.

Seven other deputies who were placed on administrative leave after the April pursuit in the inland desert were not charged.

"I believe the officers charged today crossed the line under the color of authority," Ramos said at a news conference.

A KNBC-TV helicopter followed the chase as Frances Jared Pusok fled deputies on a stolen horse. The station then televised deputies repeatedly punching and kicking Pusok as he lay on the ground.

The county reached a $650,000 settlement with Pusok, 30. He has been charged with 14 felony and misdemeanor counts, including vandalism, auto and horse theft, reckless driving and being under the influence of drugs. He is free on bail and could face up to 19 years in prison if convicted.

"I'm just grateful to be alive," Pusok said at an afternoon news conference, adding he was happy that the deputies had been charged.

"It shows more and more that Francis Pusok had a right to run away from them," said his attorney, Jim Terrell. "They were savages."

The county Sheriff's Department submitted its investigation to the district attorney last month.

The charged deputies face anywhere from 16 months to 3 years in prison if convicted, Ramos said. Efforts to contact them Tuesday were not immediately successful.

The Safety Employee Benefits Association, the union representing deputies, said in a statement that it would provide legal representation for the three deputies, but it did not elaborate.

Sheriff John McMahon said all 10 deputies remain on paid administrative leave.

During the 2 1/2-hour chase April 9, Pusok fled by car and then on a stolen horse in the desert while deputies chased him on foot, authorities said. They were trying to serve a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation.

Pusok wasn't wanted in the ID theft case, but he had been sought earlier in the day in connection with a burglary and the theft of a motorcycle. The charges include allegations that he stole three motorcycles.

The video showed Pusok, dressed in bright red clothing, falling from the horse. A deputy ran up and fired a Taser that officials said was ineffective.

Pusok was face down with his legs outstretched and hands behind his back as a deputy threw punches and kicks. One deputy kicked him in the crotch. Other deputies arrived moments later.

The video led to a federal civil rights investigation. McMahon said at the time that the video "disturbed and troubled" him and appeared to show an excessive use of force.

Pusok has a number of vehicle-code violations in his history. He also pleaded no contest to several criminal charges in a prior criminal case, including resisting arrest, attempted robbery and animal cruelty, according to San Bernardino County Superior Court records.

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