Two San Rafael police officers are under investigation after one of them beat and bloodied a local gardener during questioning about an open container of beer.
The violent incident took place in late July and was captured on the officers’ body-worn cameras. A police report indicates the man was arrested and booked into the Marin County Jail on the same day, facing charges for a felony, obstructing and resisting an officer, and three misdemeanors, including battery on an officer. The following day, the case was turned over to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office.
The Pacific Sun’s deep dive into eight videos recorded by several officers at the scene, police reports of the incident and other documents, revealed a disturbing picture. In addition to the beating, there are questions about the conduct of officers who arrived afterwards, the police department’s initial lack of transparency and procedures in the DA’s office.
Despite a police report’s claim that an officer was battered by a suspect and its admission of use of force by two officers, the San Rafael Police Department, which frequently issues press releases about arrests, did not inform the public of the event. The DA’s office filed charges against the gardener on Aug. 2.
However, the man’s attorney, Charles Dresow, told the Pacific Sun in an interview that the DA’s office filed those charges before watching the body cam videos. After viewing the videos on Aug. 22, an assistant DA dropped the charges on Aug. 26.
Dresow sent a letter to District Attorney Lori Frugoli on Sept. 7, requesting that she open an investigation or refer the matter to the California Attorney General’s Office. Later that day, Frugoli issued a statement that an investigation by her office was underway.
The incident quickly became worldwide news when portions of the videos went viral after KGO-TV broke the story on Sept. 1. During the station’s news report, viewed more than a million times on YouTube, reporter Dan Noyes dubbed the gardener “Mateo.”
We will also use the name Mateo because Dresow has requested the media not identify his client, who fears for his safety. The community has adopted the name as well. During marches, demonstrations and public comments at last week’s city council meeting, residents from around the county have demanded “Justice for Mateo.”
It all began on Wednesday, July 27, at 6:52pm, when San Rafael Police Officer Daisy Mazariegos confronted three men who had open containers of beer on a barren section of Windward Way in the Canal area. After instructing the men to sit on the curb, in English and Spanish, Mazariegos remained in the street and questioned Mateo, body camera footage shows.
All three men cooperated, and Mateo responded respectfully and reasonably to Mazariegos, according to Saul Godinez, a San Rafael resident who interpreted the Spanish portions of videos for the Pacific Sun. Mateo explained that the three friends had gathered to drink after work.
Officer Brandon Nail arrived two minutes later, just as Mazariegos asked the three men for their IDs. The situation devolved rapidly when Mateo stood up to retrieve his identification from his pocket.
A frame-by-frame review of Mazariegos’ and Nail’s body cam videos shows that, in less than 60 seconds, a series of aggressive maneuvers by both officers resulted in Mateo lying face down on the pavement in a pool of his own blood with his hands cuffed behind his back. Mateo was arrested and placed in the back of a police car.
Corporal Oscar O’Con and three other officers then arrived, each wearing a body camera. Some officers, including Nail and Mazariegos, are smiling. Laughter is heard.
The two other men, still sitting on the curb, are issued citations for having an open container in public, which is an infraction, and released. But Mateo remained in the police vehicle for more than 50 minutes before an officer was instructed by O’Con to transport the bloodied man to the hospital, and then jail.
Dresow is outraged by the content of the videos, and Mazariegos’ and Nail’s reports. Indeed the reports are baffling, with some of the two officers’ accounts almost identical, yet not entirely accurate.
“Officer Mazariegos’ immediate aggressive tone towards my client was quickly escalated into physical violence by Officer Nail,” Dresow said. “The officers then weaponized the criminal justice system against my client by filing false police reports.”
Mazariegos’ report, written on the day of the arrest, lists Nail as the “victim,” due to his “injuries.” Mateo is identified as the suspect, despite the report noting that he is 5 feet tall and 130 pounds, while Nail is 6 feet two inches and 250 pounds.
The report also states that as Nail took Mateo to the ground, Mateo placed the officer into a headlock. At the scene, body cam videos show Mazariegos repeatedly saying that Mateo is “drunk.” She doubled down in her report, stating Mateo slurred his words and showed other signs of being under the influence. Mazariegos’ assertions are not evident in the videos, and Godinez, the interpreter, said Mateo didn’t slur when speaking.
Inexplicably, Mazariegos’ report states that hospital personnel indicated Mateo’s x-rays and CAT scan came back clear. The Pacific Sun, however, independently verified that Mateo was diagnosed with a broken nose and concussion.
Nail’s report states Mateo attempted to put him in a headlock, but he pushed Mateo away. Mateo then struck Nail several times on the left side and back of his head, according to the report. Again, the videos do not show these actions.
Both Mazariegos and Nail said in their reports that when Mateo grabbed onto Nail’s vest, the officer punched him in the nose. The videos show Nail took him down, and for a fraction of second some of Mateo’s fingers hooked onto the officer’s vest.
Mazariegos, who finished field training in May, is still on her probationary period. Nail has been on the force for almost three years, after a two-year stint in the Sausalito Police Department. Both are now on paid leave from the department, police spokesperson Lt. Scott Eberle told the Pacific Sun.
The department’s decision to pay the officers while they are on leave was frequently criticized by speakers during public comment at the recent city council meeting. However, the City of San Rafael’s attorney, Rob Epstein, explained in an email that the police department does not have an option of placing officers on unpaid leave.
San Rafael Police Chief David Spiller told the Pacific Sun he intends to find out what happened during and after the incident.
“An independent investigation will look at all of the officers involved,” Spiller said.
On Friday, Sept. 9, the city announced it had hired Paul Henry, of Independent Investigative Consultants, a former Santa Rosa police officer, to conduct the investigation. The choice is controversial.
“The selection of Mr. Henry, who while a police lieutenant, was heavily involved in the Santa Rosa Police Department’s justification of the Andy Lopez killing, is shockingly insensitive and displays a lack of empathy towards the Latino community,” Dresow said.
Dresow sent a letter to the city attorney, Epstein, on Sept. 13, outlining four other concerns about Henry. To address the concerns, Dresow requested that the city appoint a co-investigator, chosen by Mateo, to work alongside Henry and co-author the report.
Interestingly, District Attorney Frugoli, whose office is conducting an investigation into whether any crimes were committed by Mazariegos and Nail, is also a former police officer. Frugoli worked at the San Rafael Police Department and the Santa Rosa Police Department.
The publicity surrounding the incident is taking its toll on morale in the police department, according to Spiller. In addition, the police station is receiving “very angry, very hateful phone calls.”
“I’m committed to hearing and addressing the concerns of the Canal community and policing effectively,” Spiller said. “My role is to lead the organization, address shortcomings and move forward in a positive way.”
Spiller’s task might be easier once the two investigations have concluded and more information is provided to the public. Until then, Mazariegos and Nail are considered innocent until proven guilty.