Lawsuit alleges officers with history of violence beat unconscious man with flashlights

A man who was severely injured after he took off running from LBPD officers has filed a lawsuit alleging police beat him with flashlights, kicked him and Tasered him even after an officer had already knocked him unconscious.

The 2018 encounter left Jose Encinas in an intensive care unit and homicide detectives investigating whether officers were justified in using potentially deadly force against him.

Officers say they used such aggressive tactics because they feared Encinas had a gun. He’d already dropped one during the foot chase and he was face down with his hands hidden under his body when officers struck him repeatedly in an effort to make him obey their orders to let them handcuff him.

But Encinas alleges he wasn’t complying with officers because he’d been knocked out by the first flashlight blow to the head, which sent him tumbling to the ground.

Last week, attorneys for Encinas filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming the city should pay $5 million in compensation for Encinas’ injuries that included a gash to the head and bleeding brain.

Moreover, the suit asks a judge to penalize the Long Beach Police Department by another $3 million, alleging several of the officers have a history of violence that LBPD brass should have addressed before Encinas ended up in the hospital.

The officer who first hit Encinas with a flashlight, Salvador Alatorre, has already been involved in several excessive force and police shooting cases that cost the city more than $2.5 million in settlements and jury verdicts, court records show.

In the most recent case from January 2018, Alatorre used a flashlight to beat someone “so severely that a fellow officer had to pull Alatorre off” the man, according to Encinas’ lawyers, who also worked on the January 2018 case. Records show Long Beach settled those accusations in 2019 for $250,000.

It’s unclear what if any consequences the department has imposed on Alatorre, but he hasn’t worked for the LBPD since December, according to a spokeswoman.

Encinas’ attorneys allege that two more officers involved in his arrest, Alfredo Charez and Fernando Archuleta, have also faced previous excessive force or police shooting lawsuits. Both still work for the department, the spokeswoman said.

“Although legal requirements restrict us from disclosing disciplinary outcomes specific to named employees, we can confirm that a comprehensive and thorough internal affairs investigation was conducted and presented to the Chief of Police,” LBPD Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish said in a statement.

The Long Beach City Attorney’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

As for the officers who arrested Encinas, they said they feared he would shoot them, according to police reports they wrote at the time.

Alatorre and the other officers who pulled over Encinas were part of a specialized unit tasked with driving down gang activity and violent crime in certain parts of the city.

On Sept. 19, 2018, they were looking for a gang member wanted for burglary and a probation violation when they mistook Encinas for the suspect, according to records provided by the department.

When officers ordered Encinas out of his truck, he took off running and “tossed” a firearm, according to police reports.

Alatorre wrote that he caught up and tried to pin Encinas against a wall but heard other officers warning that Encinas had a gun. In that moment, Alatorre said, he couldn’t see Encinas’ hands.

“Fearing Encinas was removing or had already removed a gun from his waistband, I felt I had no other option, but to strike Encinas with my flashlight in an area where I would prevent Encinas from shooting or possibly killing me and other officers attempting to detain him,” according to Alatorre’s report, which police provided to the Post in response to a public records request.

That first blow knocked Encinas out, according to his lawsuit, and he was unconscious as other officers arrived and participated in hitting, shocking and kicking him while they ordered him to put his hands behind his back.

When homicide investigators interviewed Encinas at the hospital, he reportedly told them he had no memory of how he got hurt; he just started running and, “Next thing you know, I ended up here.”

Encinas has since pleaded no contest to a weapons charge and narcotics distribution after police found drugs in his car, court records show. He also has previous convictions in drug and weapons cases, according to police.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with a statement from the the LBPD assistant chief.

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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.