‘It Was Really Hard to Watch’: California Cop Caught On Video Kicking Teen In Face, Squeezing His Neck as Boy Begged for Mercy Finally Charged

A three-year investigation stemming from a short video recorded by a witness led to a felony charge against a Southern California police officer this month.

Glendale Police Officer Gonzalo Zendejas was charged on June 3 with assault by a public officer over a video showing the uniformed cop kicking a juvenile suspect in the face who was on the ground being punched in the face by two other cops in plainclothes while a fourth cop in plainclothes held his legs down.

The incident took place on June 5, 2021, inside a Dick’s Sporting Goods store at the Glendale Galleria shopping mall. This is the same mall where Glendale police detained “Straight Outta Compton” actor Darris Love after claiming he matched the description of a burglary suspect in 2018. The actor has since filed a lawsuit.

California Cops Beat Teen at Mall
A group of police officers, mainly in plain clothes, surround a teen at the Glendale Galleria shopping mall on June 5, 2021. (Photo: Video screenshot)

The juvenile male who was beaten and kicked also matched the description of a male seen shoplifting in another part of the mall, according to police, but it is not clear at this time if he was ever convicted. The other three cops punching and holding the teen were not charged.

Glendale police said in a statement that they “immediately began an internal investigation” after the incident by placing all four cops on paid administrative leave. Online records show Zendeja, who began working for Glendale police in 2012, continued to receive an annual salary of roughly $150,000 in 2022 and 2023. 

The only difference from previous years was that he was unable to collect overtime pay while on administrative leave, which had amounted to roughly $25,000 in 2020, $35,000 in 2019 and $39,000 in 2018.

But now, after three years on paid administrative leave, he is facing up to three years in the county jail if convicted, according to the California Penal Code. The video was not made public until after the charges were announced by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón on Monday.

“This incident is a serious violation of the duty to serve with integrity and respect,” the district attorney said in a statement. “Our office’s commitment is to ensure that justice is served, and all individuals, regardless of their role or position, are held accountable for their actions.”

The teen’s name has not been released, but CBS Los Angeles spoke to his family, who said he suffered injuries to both his eyes and head. 

“It was really hard to watch,” the teen’s sister, Melissa Navarette, told a reporter. “We got traumatized. We have, like, all of the video stuck in our head.”

CBS Los Angeles also spoke to the man who recorded the incident whose video led to the felony charge.

“The officer that wasn’t even there to begin with, that ran up on this situation, and as soon as he arrived, he just decided I’m going to kick this kid in the face,” said the witness, whose name was not publicized. 

The video shows one of the cops who had been punching him in the face as the teen was lying on his back, ordering him to “turn around on your face” while he and the other cops held the teen down, preventing him from turning around on his face.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” the teen pleads as Zendejas places his hand on his neck.

Glendale police said the incident began after they received a call about an “in-progress retail burglary involving multiple suspects inside a Glendale Galleria store,” according to the statement issued by police on June 3.

“Officers responded and located a suspect matching the description and eventually contacted that suspect inside of the Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Sgt. Christian Hauptmann told CBS Los Angeles.

Glendale police said they placed all four cops on paid leave and contacted the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to investigate the incident.

“From the onset of this investigation, the Glendale Police Department has provided the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office with all reports, statements, audio, and video to aid in their process. This was done to be fully transparent and assist in a complete and thorough investigation of the facts and evidence surrounding the incident,” Glendale police said in its statement.

Police said they recovered stolen merchandise from the teen, and he was charged with petty theft and resisting an officer by force, but the only force being applied in the video is coming from the cops.

In 2020, Glendale became the first city in California to apologize for its history of being a “sundown town” where Black people were targeted for being in public after sunset.

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