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San Diego police say no 911 calls exist in case of Black man tackled and punched by officers in La Jolla

Jesse Evans embraces community member and friend Amie Zamudio during a news conference in May about his arrest in La Jolla.
(Kristian Carreon)

The city says police mistakenly said they withheld 911 calls of the incident that led to the arrest of Jesse Evans in May.

Responding to a request from a newspaper, the San Diego Police Department says it did not receive any 911 calls about a homeless Black man who ended up being punched repeatedly by a pair of officers in La Jolla.

The response raised questions about why the department previously stated it would withhold 911 calls tied to the May 12 incident when Jesse Evans, 34, was arrested.

City officials have said the initial response was a clerical error.

In late May, the newspaper La Prensa San Diego made a request under the California Public Records Act that the department turn over audio of any 911 calls tied to the incident, which was video-recorded by a witness and circulated online, sparking outrage in the community and beyond.

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

In response, the Police Department released a “call for service” log that indicated an officer initiated the interaction with Evans. But the department also said it chose to withhold audio of 911 calls from being released.

The newspaper filed a lawsuit in an effort to compel the department to release audio of any 911 calls. The suit claimed the city did not search thoroughly and had applied state law exemptions erroneously in responding to the request.

On June 29, the department changed its response to the records request, telling La Prensa Publisher Art Castañares that the department determined there were no 911 calls. In a follow-up letter last week, the San Diego city attorney’s office told Castañares that the initial response “was a clerical error in that no SDPD 911 calls related to the Jesse Evans incident on May 12, 2021, were found or withheld.”

In the letter, the city attorney’s office said it considers the lawsuit moot and requested that Castañares withdraw it.

In an interview July 8, Castañares rejected the city’s claim that there was a clerical error. He said the Police Department must have found something that led the department to say it was withholding 911 calls.

“It opens more questions than it answers,” Castañares said.

“Before they can claim an exemption, they need to thoroughly research the availability of documents, and then, if they’re going to impose or invoke an exemption, [that] should be carefully thought out,” he added.

Castañares said that on two other occasions, the city changed its responses to requests for records on other matters after he took legal action.

“I shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit and take the time and energy to discover that their first response wasn’t accurate,” he said.

The Police Department declined to comment.

Asked to explain the clerical error, the city attorney’s office said in a statement that someone initially responded to the request with incorrect information. The office also shared with The San Diego Union-Tribune a declaration in which a dispatch administrator states under oath that she searched and did not find any 911 calls.

Castañares was joined by the Rev. Shane Harris of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates in calling for the release of any 911 calls tied to Evans’ arrest. They said they wanted a better picture of what prompted officers to stop Evans — and whether officers acted on racial biases.

Video of the encounter, recorded by the officers’ body-worn cameras, indicates the officers were about to respond to another call when they stopped Evans near the busy intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and La Jolla Scenic Drive.

San Diego police released body camera footage May 21 showing portions of a controversial arrest last week in La Jolla in which officers tackled and repeatedly punched a homeless Black man.

Police have said that officers saw Evans urinating in public. Evans said he had unclasped his pants to urinate but walked away when officers approached him and warned him to stop.

According to the body-camera footage and video recorded by the witness, one of the officers wrapped his arms around Evans from behind as he walked down a marked crosswalk. The other officer pointed a Taser at Evans. Both officers then tackled Evans to the ground and punched him several times in his face and legs.

The incident spurred an internal Police Department investigation. An update on the investigation was not available July 8.

No criminal charges were filed against Evans in connection with the case. ◆