LBPD officer with history of excessive force beat 2 men with flashlight, lawsuit says

A Long Beach police officer who’s twice been sued for excessive force is facing new allegations that he hit two men with his flashlight, leaving one with a head injury and the other on crutches.

Officer Salvador Alatorre seriously injured the men as he was arresting them during separate incidents about eight months apart last year, according to legal documents.

One man, Ray Cash, says Alatorre ruptured his Achilles tendon by hitting him repeatedly in the legs, according to Cash’s federal lawsuit.

The other man, Jose Encinas, alleges doctors had to put him into a medically induced coma for a time after Alatorre hit him in the head with a Maglite. He’s filed a legal claim against Long Beach, which is usually a precursor to a lawsuit.

Cash and Encinas both have the same attorneys, who declined to comment or make either client available for an interview.

The union that represents Long Beach police officers defended Alatorre, saying he’s been put in situations that required him to use force.

“Officer Alatorre worked a special detail specifically assigned to locate and arrest some of the most dangerous suspects in the city,” Long Beach Police Officers Association President Jim Foster said. “Some of those suspects chose to flee and fight with the police to avoid arrest.”

Encinas, for example, dropped a gun as he tried to get away from officers, according to court documents filed by Alatorre.

As part of their cases, Cash and Encinas’ lawyers have also taken aim at the city of Long Beach, saying the department let Alatorre stay on the force despite knowing about his “violent propensities.”

Over the past five years, Long Beach has paid out almost $2.5 million in court cases that involved Alatorre.

In 2014, Long Beach agreed to pay $380,000 after a jury found Alatorre used excessive force on a man who officers beat and Tasered after Alatorre confronted him about playing music too loudly. The jury also found two other officers had either wrongly arrested or battered the man, according to court documents.

In 2016, Long Beach paid $2 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit against Alatorre and another officer for shooting 36-year-old Jason Conoscenti as he fled down a flight of stairs at the beach after a car chase with authorities in April 2014.

In court papers, attorneys point to these cases as evidence that Alatorre has a problem with brutality that the Long Beach Police Department should have addressed.

Husband alleges excessive force

Cash says his run-in with Alatorre happened on Jan. 28, 2018 when his wife called police to their home, according to his federal lawsuit filed in December.

Cash says Alatorre approached him with his gun drawn after his wife explained the couple had been arguing but Cash hadn’t been physical with her.

Unprompted, Cash tried to give officers his ID, he says, but they slammed him to the ground and Alatorre began hitting Cash with a Maglight flashlight “over and over again with all of his strength.”

By the end of the beating, Cash had to be carried to a squad car because he could no longer stand, he alleges.

Cash was arrested but never charged, according to the lawsuit. Jail records show he was held for two days before being released on bond.

The Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office, which handles misdemeanor offenses, declined to file any charges against Cash, as did the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

Cash’s wife was uncooperative with investigators, making it difficult to pursue a criminal case with her as a victim, according to the City Prosecutor’s office. The lawsuit says she only called police in the hopes they “could keep the peace.”

She is now a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the department. The couple is seeking more than $8 million in damages.

Another arrest

A few months later, Alatorre seriously hurt Encinas, according to a legal claim his attorneys filed in November.

Alatorre “brutalized” 46-year-old Encinas by hitting him in the back of the head with a Maglite, “causing serious, life-threatening injuries,” according to the claim.

The document doesn’t go into detail about the situation other than saying it happened on the night of Sept. 19 in a West Long Beach parking lot.

However, a search warrant filed by Alatorre in Long Beach Superior Court gives his account of what happened.

Alatorre wrote that officers pulled Encinas over for a traffic violation. While officers were detaining Encinas, he ran, according to the warrant.

During the chase, Encinas dropped a handgun, according to the document, which makes no mention of officers ever using force against him.

After they’d arrested him, officers found 25 grams of meth, almost 10 grams of heroin and more than $2,000 in the car, Alatorre wrote.

The warrant requested permission from a judge to search Encinas’ phone, which Alatorre said could help investigators determine if he was selling the drugs.

In October, Encinas was charged with five counts related to drug sales, drug possession and weapon possession. He’s since pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

No details on discipline

As recently as February, Alatorre was part of a specialized group of officers known as a Directed Enforcement Team that targets specific problems like drugs, gangs or break-ins as a supplement to normal patrol officers.

Now, however, Alatorre is working an administrative job at the department, according to an LBPD spokeswoman.

The department would not say whether it’s determined Alatorre did anything wrong in any of the cases brought against him.

The city denied a public records request about Alatorre despite a new state law mandating authorities turn over discipline records in some cases, including when officers seriously hurt or kill someone.

Long Beach maintains it’s unclear whether the law applies to events before the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, a position also held by California’s attorney general.

Police unions representing LAPD officers and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies made similar arguments in lawsuits attempting to block access to records, but a judge ordered the departments to produce the documents to media organizations like the Los Angeles Times.

Police unions across the state are appealing similar decisions, and Long Beach said it will continue to withhold documents until there’s a ruling at a higher court level.

The department declined to make Alatorre available to address to the allegations, but in court papers responding to Cash’s lawsuit, Long Beach contended any force he and other officers used in that case was justified. They specifically take issue with Cash’s contention that he “did not resist the officers and was compliant.”

Foster, the union president, said Alatorre has been in positions where he was forced to defend himself or use force to arrest someone.

“On some occasions, his use of a lower-level striking tool de-escalated the situation and prevented what could have been an even more dangerous situation from unfolding,” Foster said. “Each use of force could have been totally prevented if the suspect would have simply complied with the officer’s lawful orders.”

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.