WPB officers fired after video reveals beating - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

WPB officers fired after video reveals beating

By Al Pefley email
Posted by Rachel Leigh email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - One day after releasing startling video of police beating a man in handcuffs, the West Palm Beach police chief, Delsa Bush, wasted little time making her decision on their fate.

Updated, WED 10 AM: Two officers, Louis Schwartz and Jason Zangara, are now fired. Another one, Kurt Graham, a rookie who had been on the force less than a year, resigned last month.

All three are now out of job.

The guy who was the victim of that beating, Pablo Valenzuela of West Palm Beach, is saying little. "I have no comment. I'm sorry."

Reporter asks, "Are you pleased to hear that these officers are no longer on the force?"

"I have no comment sir, I'm sorry," Valenzuela told us when he came to the front door of his home.

The video that sparked the firings is drawing attention from networks and other media outlets nationwide. It shows two West Palm Beach Police officers kicking Valenzuela on the ground in handcuffs on May 26 after he had just been arrested for robbing a pharmacy.

The officers say they kicked Valenzuela to stop him from biting them. Moments later, the video shows another officer repeatedly punching Valenzuela in the face as he's escorting him to a squad car.

"It's possible for something like this to happen. But this agency just can't tolerate it at all," Police Chief Delsa Bush said.

The head of the police union, John Kazanjian, is upset over the firings saying by phone: "I don't think they should be fired. We'll take it to arbitration if we have to."

Not only did the incident cost the three officers their jobs, but it also raises the possibility they could face criminal charges if prosecutors decide to take the matter to a grand jury.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney's office told us no decision has been made on that.

Previously: Police have just released some startling video in a beating case. The West Palm Beach Police chief says there's no doubt in her mind they used excessive force.

The video shows a man with a scarf over his face and armed with pepper-spray robbing a CVS Pharmacy in May, demanding oxycodone.

Moments later, a police squad car camera shows the same guy under arrest, handcuffed on the ground outside the drugstore, being kicked by two West Palm Beach police officers, Louis Schwartz and Kurt Graham.

The video shows a few seconds later the suspect is on his feet still handcuffed, and another West Palm Beach policeman, Jason Zangara, repeatedly punches the guy in the face.

According to the arrest report, the beating victim, Pablo Valenzuela of West Palm Beach, suffered a cut over his left eye and needed several stitches.

"To see this actually happens, obviously, I'm not pleased with it at all. We are held at a much higher standard than anyone else," said Police Chief Delsa Bush.

"It is our position that the force they used was proper. They feel they used that force necessary to diffuse the situation and only the force that was legal and proper. Period," explained Lawrence Fagan, a police union attorney that is representing the three officers.

Officer Graham resigned last month. The other two, Schwartz and Zangara, are on paid administrative leave. The police chief has not decided yet what discipline they will face.

As for Pablo Valenzuela, he is now on house arrest, charged with robbery with a weapon and aggravated assault on an officer.

According to the arrest report, he apologized for his actions and said he has had a drug addiction "for a long time".

When we reached him at home, he declined to comment and referred questions to his lawyer, Rudy Gurrola of West Palm Beach. Gurrola told us he may sue the police department for use of excessive force.

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