What’s striking about the footage is what’s missing.
Nowhere in the videos San Jose police released in a Friday news dump can we see cops firing the rubber bullets that ruptured Derrick Sanderlin’s testicle. There’s no sign of the beer bottles police accused Shante Thomas of chucking from her third-story window before they pelted her in a hail of pepper balls and rubber projectile.
We don’t see the officer who grabbed a protester’s phone and hurling it into the crowd before getting clocked in the face. Also absent is any sign of Tim Harper, the bystander who helped drag that same cop to safety before later getting struck by a rubber bullet.
Nowhere do we see firecrackers Capt. Jason Dwyer said were thrown at police, nor the frozen water bottles and containers of urine. We never see footage from the officers whose riot-gun-fired foam baton rounds split open Jose Ruiz’s pinky, struck Breanna Contreras in the temple and left JT Stukes covered in bright purple bruises.
There’s nothing to add context to the officer seen placing his knee on a protester’s neck. We see none of the interactions that preceded dozens of arrests over several days for curfew violations and other protest-related charges.
While there’s a lot left out of the three YouTube compilations unveiled late in the afternoon Friday, we at least get some fresh perspectives on a few highly publicized encounters during the first few days of San Jose’s George Floyd protests.
In a 17-minute video, we see a motorcycle cop’s run-in with a man on the run from the vantage point of several body cameras (which was classified as a traffic collision, exempting it from the kind of review required in use-of-force incidents).
There’s a 26-minute reel of police trying to catch a man suspected of hurling a bottle at them (though no actual bottle-throwing is seen in the footage). Another video—the longest by far, with about a half-hour run time—shows a violent clash between police and protesters at Seventh and Santa Clara streets.
Normally, SJPD officials said they would have kept the body-cam footage under wraps, citing ongoing investigations and pending litigation—even though the latter reason isn’t even a lawful exemption from disclosure under state law. But after three-and-a-half months of pressure from the public and the City Council, SJPD unveiled the trio of videos along with lengthy commentary justifying the police responses depicted therein.
Chief Eddie Garcia said he hopes the footage offers more clarity. For many who witnessed the protests firsthand and came away with police-inflicted injuries, however, the new clips leave them with more questions than answers.
Daniel Mayfield—a 40-year criminal defense attorney and National Lawyers Guild legal observer—found the video editing and attendant commentary “extremely self-serving” and misleading. Especially the longest video, which depicts one of his clients: David Baca.
SJPD labels the Baca video “Incident 2, Case Number 20-150-0495, subject attempting to disarm officer/failing to disperse.” It starts with already widely shared aerial news footage from a KPIX Channel 5 helicopter in which Baca can be seen holding his cellphone at arm’s length to record the skirmish line advancing toward City Hall. Baca is seen walking up to the officers, who rush toward him with their batons.
Then, the video cuts to SJPD body-cam footage, which shows 10 minutes of police trying to disperse protesters down East Santa Clara Street toward City Hall. At the 13-minute-45-second mark, Baca ambles into view—his face is blurred in the body-cam video. He’s heard shouting, “That’s the racist cop right there!”
Baca walks into the street and exits the camera’s view to the right. By the time he’s seen again, a bunch of policemen are tackling him to the ground. Protesters scream at the clash and start throwing things at the officers, begging them to stop.
At a little past the 14-minute mark, we cut to a second body-cam clip. For several minutes, the officer wearing the camera tries to clear observers out of the way, getting into a shouting match with one guy and telling others to back up toward the sidewalk lest they get hurt. The camera pans over to Baca after he’s already being restrained. People scream in the background amid the pops of riot guns and clatter of tear gas canisters.
Camera No. 4 takes us back to the skirmish line.
An officer’s wood truncheon obscures the view. We see cops firing rubber bullets at protesters backing up several feet ahead of officers.
Several seconds after the 19-minute mark, we hear Baca again, shouting about that one officer he believed was targeting Black and brown protesters with his riot gun. We get our first close-up view of Baca approaching the cops, who respond by shoving their batons into him. Baca grabs the baton, apparently trying to wrestle it away.
Camera No. 4 mostly centers on a young woman in a white shirt who’s asking cops about police killings, demanding that they say, “Black Lives Matter” and questioning their forceful response. A few minutes in, Baca’s shout can be heard again. Then, the camera pans left, where we see his shirt lifted up as cops wrangle him to the ground. Protesters respond to the incident by chucking objects at the police line amid panicked shouts.
The view from the fifth body-cam is mostly blocked by what appears to be the officer’s arm. When we get a view of Baca again, he’s already being violently subdued by the crush of police officers. We seem him pushed to the ground, where officers spread his legs while cuffing his hands behind his back.
The sixth camera shows officers starting to move the protesters back. One cop shoves a couple young women with the end of his baton, causing one to stumble. Baca enters the frame once again just before the 27-minute point, where we see yet another view of the clash from behind the skirmish line.
Mayfield said he was struck by SJPD withholding video showing how one of the cops shoved a baton onto Baca’s throat. Also absent from the official narrative are names of any of the police officers involved.
What the aerial footage again affirms, in Mayfield’s view, is that the officer who initiated contact with Baca takes two steps forward to strike him. The veteran litigator said he measured the traffic lines on the street shortly after the incident to determine just how far the officer stepped forward to strike Baca.
“What’s important here is that police stepped out of line,” Mayfield said.
What SJPD describes as Baca’s attempt to disarm officers is presumptive as well, Mayfield argued. Baca can be seen swinging at officers and even grabbing the end of a baton in the video. In an interview with San Jose Inside some days after the incident, Baca said he reacted that way instinctively—like a drowning person would thrash their arms above water—because he was struggling to breathe after getting hit in the throat and then hammered in a flurry of baton strikes.
SJPD closed their commentary of the incident by noting that Baca was injured and transported to a hospital. What it neglects to mention is that he had to wait for about 45 minutes before boarding an ambulance and that officers tried to get him to stand up on his broken knee. When he got to the hospital, Baca had to undergo a five-hour surgery.
Hours after the video release, Mayfield took to social media to give city officials a piece of his mind. “This is not an example of transparency,” he wrote below Mayor Sam Liccardo’s Facebook post about the footage. “It is an attempted whitewash of the Black Lives Matter demonstration. Give us the officers names. Show all the footage from all the body cams. And most importantly stop beating up San Jose citizens.”
Baca’s wife, Lisa Robles, said the newly available footage broke her heart.
“I already saw so many videos of what happened,” she said, “based on people’s cellphone footage and personal recordings. But when I saw the clip where the officers basically had him in a chokehold and [Baca’s] saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ I think I felt like I was standing right there … ”
Her voice trailed off, choked with emotion.
“I had to watch it in another room, where he wouldn’t hear it,” Robles said in a phone call today. “And after I finished, I came out and asked him ‘Can I give you a hug?’ … And I just started hugging him so tightly, so tightly.”
Ten weeks post-op, Robles said her husband still faces a long road, hard to recovery. He refuses pain meds to avoid the litany of negative side effects and has been undergoing intensive twice-weekly physical therapy. Despite her husband’s best efforts, Robles said his pain remains excruciating even all these months later.
Meanwhile, the Santa Clara County DA has yet to decide whether to file charges against Baca, leaving his family in limbo. SJPD refuses to give him a police report on the incident, citing the pending investigation.
“But they seem fine with releasing all that body-cam footage,” Robles remarked. “So I don’t really understand what’s going on.”