Two days after Watsonville Police Department faced scrutiny for short videos posted to social media that showed one of its officers punching a man multiple times during an arrest on Tuesday, the department released the emergency dispatch calls and body-worn camera footage of the incident.
The 13-minute video features two calls between Antonio Zepeda’s brother and 911 dispatchers in which he tells them that Zepeda assaulted him and his mother at a home on Chapple Road before leaving and returning with a knife. It also includes the complete encounter between Zepeda and three WPD officers in which he fails multiple times to comply with commands to get on the ground, and then wrestles with the officers when one of them knees him in the back to force him onto his stomach.
The video starts with one officer yelling at Zepeda to leave the front of a home on Chappel Road and come toward them. As Zepeda closes the roughly 40-foot distance, an officer, with a gun drawn, tells him multiple times to keep his hands up, then tells him to turn around and get on the ground. Another officer tells him to get on his stomach.
Zepeda turns away from the officers and puts his hands behind his back and tells the officer to “put the cuffs on, fool. Get me.”
As both officers continue to tell him to get on the ground, one of the officers warns Zepeda that they will use a TASER on him.
“Go for it, tase me,” Zepeda replies before saying again to put him in handcuffs.
Officers, again, tell him to get on the ground. Zepeda then drops to his knees, keeping his hands behind his back. When told again to get on his stomach, Zepeda says no, that they should use the TASER on him and put the handcuffs on him.
Then, one officer knees Zepeda in the back to get him on his stomach, and two other officers jump in to try to constrain Zepeda. As Zepeda breaks free from the first officer and turns to get on his back and fight off the officers, one officer throws at least four punches at his head.
One officer then uses the TASER on Zepeda as the other two turn him around and put handcuffs on him.
The videos that surfaced on social media earlier in the week did not show the beginning of the confrontation. They showed only the portion of the incident after one of the officers knees Zepeda in the back while he was on his knees facing away from them with his hands behind his back.
Those snippets circulated on social media Wednesday, racking up thousands of views and dozens of comments critical of the officers’ actions.
In a statement on Wednesday, WPD said that it was investigating the incident but would not say whether it would release the body-worn camera footage.
The video released Friday evening states that the department understood why the videos posted to social media caused concern among Watsonville residents.
“Our officers respond to calls with the goal of never having to use force. Unfortunately, the use of force is at times the only option to safely resolve incidents like this,” a statement included at the end of the video reads. “We appreciate the inquiries, comments and interest of our community to demand transparency and ensure that our department continues to maintain high standards for the work our officers do in our community.”
Zepeda was arrested for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant and resisting arrest, according to police logs. He was booked into Santa Cruz County Jail on $2,500 bail.
WPD officers have been equipped with body-worn cameras since Watsonville City Council approved their use and purchase in 2019. The move was made possible, in part, thanks to funding from Measure G, the half-cent sales tax approved by Watsonville voters in 2014. That measure was renewed in 2018 as Measure Y.