Chief defends cop caught on video repeatedly punching a man in the face

Sweetwater police officer caught on video punching man

A Sweetwater police officer was caught on camera punching a man several times in the face during a search for his brother, who police say hit an officer with his vehicle.
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A Sweetwater police officer was caught on camera punching a man several times in the face during a search for his brother, who police say hit an officer with his vehicle.

Sweetwater police are defending an officer who was caught on camera punching a man several times in the face during a search for the man’s brother, who police say hit an officer with his vehicle.

The grainy video, which was captured Wednesday from the family’s Ring security camera on the doorbell, shows several officers grappling with family members outside the front door to the small townhouse, then ordering Gary Castro, 33, and his brother Christian Castro, 37, to the ground.

It’s not clear on the video why an officer enters from the right side of the screen and strikes at Christian Castro at least three times with his right fist. Christian Castro’s arrest report says two officers threw punches. They are identified by their last names, Becker and Veltri. Police said Christian Castro was wrestling with one of the officers and disobeyed a command to lie on his stomach with his hands behind his back when he was struck.

“The guy was being held by another officer. They were on the ground. The first punch actually hit another officer in the face,” said Sweetwater Police Chief Placido Diaz. “He was combative. A struggle ensued. One officer did, in fact, strike. You have to look at it in totality. Video prior to that didn’t get out.”

The Castro family on Friday disputed Diaz’s account, saying Christian Castro followed commands and was just trying to get to his brother, who he thought was being roughed up by police without reason.

“My brother even screamed we got cameras,” Christian Castro said Friday, the cuts and bruises on his face still visible. “They came over and just beat us up. I was in front of the door and a cop came from behind and grabbed me around the neck.”

James Castro, who police said hit an officer with a vehicle Wednesday after being pulled over during a narcotics sting, managed to escape and still had not been apprehended as of Friday. Police said they have reason to believe he may now be out of town. Police said he struck an officer with his car before bailing and running away.

Family members claim James Castro was not at the home and that the last time anyone saw him was the day before, when his mother, Ana Schaublin, took him to Kendall Regional Medical Center.

James Castro, 41, is a registered sex offender who has had numerous interactions with police the past two decades. He was arrested and found guilty of sex crimes against minors twice in 1999, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show. He has a 2011 conviction for cocaine possession, and Sweetwater and Doral police arrested him 2012 and 2013 on theft charges.

On Friday at the Castro home, in the 12900 block of Northwest 20th Terrace, the family was in such disarray that Schaublin and James Castro’s girlfriend, Yanet Portales, who is pregnant, couldn’t focus and cried several times after receiving phone calls. They said they believe James Castro is being targeted and someone wants to kill him, though no one was able to say why or for what reason.

According to police and family members, a woman named Stephanie Hernandez Castro — it’s unclear if they’re related — was questioned by police about a narcotics sting just after 3 a.m. Wednesday, a few blocks from the family’s home just outside Sweetwater’s jurisdiction and after James Castro’s escape.

The woman, who was in the car with James Castro before he fled, gave police his name. Officers matched a picture of him to the person who hit a patrol officer with his car, led them on a chase, then bailed out on foot a few blocks from the home. They also linked him to the 20th Terrace home, where they went looking for him.

Police said they found Gary and Christian Castro sitting on a small porch outside the front door and ordered them repeatedly to lie on the ground and show their hands. The video at one point shows Christian Castro with his hands in the air. But police said each time they tried to subdue Christian Castro, he struggled with them and attempted to get to his brother.

Police said at one point Christian Castro flailed, hitting an officer with his head and elbows. As Christian Castro struggled with an officer on the ground who seemed to have his arms around his neck, another officer punched at him three times in the area of his face, the video shows.

The Castro brothers said they saw police coming toward their home from down the street and complied with their demands.

“They came like animals,” said Schaublin, mother of the three Castro boys. “No one resisted. They lied.”

Gary Castro was arrested and charged with resisting an officer with violence and resisting without violence. Christian Castro was also arrested and charged with resisting an officer with violence, battery on a police officer and resisting arrest without violence.

Diaz said the officers who threw the punches — two of them, though only one was captured on video — remain on patrol in good standing and that he welcomes an investigation by the FBI or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.