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Activist calls for release of police body camera video of La Jolla arrest of homeless man punched by officers

Jesse Evans (right) appears at a May 14 news conference held by Shane Harris (left) in La Jolla.
Jesse Evans (right) appears at a May 14 news conference held by Shane Harris (left), president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, in La Jolla. Evans is the homeless man shown in a witness video being tackled and punched by police officers on May 12.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The man involved, Jesse Evans, calls for better relations between police and the homeless population. Police say he wouldn’t stop resisting.

An area civil-rights activist called May 14 for the San Diego Police Department to immediately release video footage from the uniform-worn cameras of a pair of patrol officers who tackled and repeatedly punched a homeless man this week in La Jolla, prompting community outrage.

Shane Harris, president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, also demanded that dispatch and police radio records be made public related to the May 12 arrest of Jesse Evans, 34 — images of which were video-recorded by a bystander and posted on social media.

It happened at 9 a.m. May 12 at La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road. Police say officers contacted the man about urinating in public.

“I saw on video what everybody saw: a Black man being brutalized, being treated like he wasn’t a human, being treated unjustly just two days ago,” Harris said during a news conference with Evans near the site of the scuffle around La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road, which resulted in no serious injuries.

The Police Department has announced an internal investigation into the arrest.

According to SDPD officials, the two officers, whose names were not released, contacted Evans in the 4100 block of Torrey Pines Road at about 9 a.m. after seeing him relieving himself outdoors.

Evans said he had unclasped his pants to urinate while standing near some trees when an officer approached and warned him to stop because he could be cited for indecent exposure.

Evans said he walked away but an officer blocked him when he tried to cross the street heading east. He recalled that he swore at the officer, told him to get out of his way and said: “This is why I hate this country. I hate this culture.”

The cellphone video recorded by the witness shows the officers grabbing Evans and wrestling him to the ground. During the struggle, one of the patrolmen can be seen hitting Evans in the face twice with his fist, and the other punches his leg several times.

After being struck, Evans appears to pull a portable radio off one of the officers’ belts and hurl it onto the roadway, then appears to hit one of them back, landing a blow to his face. More officers pull up in cruisers and join in the struggle before the video ends.

Evans was taken to a hospital for evaluation, then to San Diego County Jail on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.

The in-house Police Department investigation began later in the day, police said.

While saying he forgave the officers for what happened, Evans, who had a bandage under his left eye, spoke of a need for better relations between police and the homeless population.

“I hope I’m the last victim of such nonsense,” he said. “I hope that we can hire reasonable individuals to look out for us and protect and serve our greater good in a better way, represent us in a better way as a community, as a nation.”

SDPD officials contended that Evans’ refusal to cooperate with the patrolmen led to the scuffle.

"[Evans] would not stop to speak with officers; therefore an officer held the man to detain him,” the department said in a statement released May 13. “Despite the officers’ repeatedly telling the man to stop resisting, [he] would not comply.”

The cellphone images of the fracas prompted a sharp rebuke and call for accountability from the San Diego branch of the NAACP.

“We have been made aware of a disturbing incident ... involving the brutal handling of a member of our community,” Francine Maxwell, president of the branch of the civil-rights organization, wrote in a letter to SDPD Chief David Nisleit. “We are deeply saddened and angered to see the San Diego Police Department act with such violence against someone who presented no apparent risk to anyone.”

La Jolla resident and homelessness advocate Amie Zamudio, who picked up Evans from jail at 5:30 a.m. May 14, spoke at the news conference and said Black people have been targeted in La Jolla by what she referred to as swatting calls, or people calling police to report people they think do not belong in the neighborhood.

Zamudio started a fundraiser to help Evans with an emergency hotel stay and legal fees; it has raised about $5,600.

Harris said during the news conference that he was not “here to make assumptions about what happened.”

“I’m here to say what I saw was concerning, and I want the whole background story,” he said.

Harris referred repeatedly to the George Floyd case, saying that if the SDPD does not root out the “next Derek Chauvin now, we will be the next Minneapolis, Minn., on national TV and international cameras in our city because the mayor, the police chief and this city’s regional leaders failed to take action.”

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted last month of the murder of Floyd, who died in May 2020 after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest.

— The San Diego Union-Tribune and La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.