Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office has rehired a California deputy who went viral for roughing up a 14-year-old boy on camera two years ago. An arbitrator ruled that the termination was too harsh and allowed for him to return to law enforcement.
Last week Deputy Brian Fowell quietly got his job back with the Rancho Cordova police — the sheriff’s office has a contract with the city of Rancho Cordova to provide police services — after filing for an appeal of the 2020 decision that found him guilty of using excessive force against a minor, Elijah Tufono.
“The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office will comply with the mandate of the independent arbitrator and integrate Deputy Fowell back into the organization,” a statement from the sheriff’s office said in part.
The reinstatement sparked outrage in the activist community. Local NAACP president Betty Williams said she is “pissed” about the decision to bring him back into law enforcement.
“I’m pissed,” Williams said. “This is basically a slap in the face to the community that he is back.”
She continued, “How can we trust your law enforcement when you know you have an officer who did something like this and you bring him back to that same community and you ask us to trust you? That is absolutely a slap in the face.”
The altercation between the officer and the teen was captured in a 15-second cellphone video in April 2020 and went viral causing millions to chime in, including then-Sen. Kamala Harris, who called the deputy’s actions “a horrific abuse of power.”
In the clip of the detainment, Fowell is seen grabbing the back of Tufono’s neck, pushing his face into the ground, and punching the teen three times in his arm. The clip does not show what led up to the incident or what happened after.
A person claiming to be Tufono’s sister posted on Twitter, “My baby brother who is 14 years old. All of this over a swisher there’s more footage but I wasn’t able to upload it all. Please repost, we just want justice for my baby! #Justice4JAH.”
“He was charged with ‘resisting arrest.’ But what was he even being arrested for?? For having a swisher? & they ended up letting him go so what was all of this for?? Smh he was left with scratches and chest pains! this was so unnecessary!” she wrote.
The officer approached the young man after he asked a stranger for some tobacco.
“And that’s when the cop pulled up,” Tufono said at the time. “And he asked me what was that in my hand. And I had gave him, as soon as he asked me that, I just gave it to him.”
He said initially he was not cooperative, saying that was his “mistake.”
Two years ago, after the altercation, the teen’s aunt Leata Tufono said at a press conference that he was emotionally and physically scarred, ABC 10 reports.
The deputy was terminated by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office after a professional standards unit investigated his engagement with the 14-year-old, determining he went too far when detaining him.
Fowell’s attorney William Creger filed his appeal on his client’s behalf in October 2020, claiming his termination was unwarranted.
“The sheriff’s office was entitled to take Deputy Fowell out of the public spotlight for a while,” the lawyer said. “The arbitrator said (Fowell) didn’t do everything perfectly, he could’ve handled it in a different way … but it didn’t need to rise to the level of termination.”
An arbitrator determined he was unjustly fired, ruling his employment should be restored.
Touting accolades like the officer being named the 2019 “Employee of the Quarter” for the force and later the same year receiving the life-saving medal for his saving a little girl’s life by using CPR, the lawyer argued Fowell’s exemplary law enforcement record was instrumental in the decision in his favor.
Much of the details of his restoration to the police force are not public. Fowell is considered a “peace officer” under California law and their records are protected and not available.
According to a recent amendment approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 30, 2021, relating to peace officers, “peace officer personnel records and specified records maintained by any state or local agency, or information obtained from these records” are to be kept “confidential” and not “disclosed in any criminal or civil proceeding except by discovery.”
Tufano’s attorney John Burris said in a statement, “It raises real safety concerns for the client who’s been nervous about this officer and hopes that he doesn’t have the chance to see him.”
“At the end of the day, I hope the officer has been retrained on how to deescalate situations, particularly when he’s dealing with teenagers who are involved with minor transgressions,” the lawyer said.
“His conduct, in this case, was over the top and clearly did not give consideration that this was a young person.”
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office has not released any further statements on Fowell’s rehiring.