The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating after a deputy threw a transgender man to the ground, punched him and held him down as the man called for help. During the encounter, which was caught on recently released surveillance video, the man could be heard telling the deputy that he couldn’t breathe and at one point said, “You’re going to kill me.”
Emmett Brock, 24, told NBC News he was driving home from his job as a teacher in February when he passed a deputy who appeared to be having a heated conversation with a woman on the side of the road. Brock said he gave the deputy the middle finger as he drove by, and that a patrol vehicle started following him, but the deputy never turned on the vehicle’s sirens or lights.
He said the vehicle tailgated him through several blocks of a residential neighborhood, so he called 911 to ask if he was being pulled over even though there were no lights or sirens.
“I was told if there were no lights and sirens, then I wasn’t being pulled over and could continue to where I was going,” Brock said.
Brock pulled into a 7-Eleven in Whittier, a Los Angeles suburb, and Deputy Joseph Benza parked behind Brock’s vehicle, according to video from the store’s security cameras that Tom Beck, Brock’s attorney, provided to NBC News.
Brock exited his vehicle and, as he closed his car door, Benza said, “I stopped you,” the video shows. Brock responded, “No, you didn’t,” with the knowledge that he had called 911 to check, he said. But then he said the deputy’s hands were on him, and he immediately panicked and thought, “I’m going to die.”
Benza grabbed him, threw him to the ground and then held Brock for three minutes while repeatedly punching him in the head, the video shows.
“You’re going to kill me,” Brock is heard yelling. “You’re going to f—ing kill me. Help! Help! Help! I’m not resisting!”
Brock said he’s 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 115 pounds, and he estimated Benza is about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds.
“His entire body weight is on top of me, and he flipped me over and threw me on my head,” Brock said, adding that his glasses broke immediately. “I’ve never even been in a fight, I’ve never had a speeding ticket, nothing like that. So I’ve never been punched before, and to have these full-force blows from behind from this deputy that is so much bigger than me, it was just, there’s no way I’m getting out of this alive.”
After the struggle, Benza arrested Brock and put him in the patrol vehicle.
Benza said he pulled Brock over because there was an object hanging from his rearview mirror, and it appeared to obstruct the driver’s forward view in violation of a California code, according to an arrest report Beck provided to NBC News.
Benza wrote in the arrest report that he activated “my patrol vehicle overhead lights, which include a fixed forward-facing red lamp,” though the overhead lights were not on when Benza pulled into the 7-Eleven parking lot behind Brock, the video shows.
Benza wrote that he got out of his car and told Brock he “stopped (detained) him,” Brock said he didn’t, and “it appeared he was about to walk away from the car and myself.” He added that Brock’s “rejection of my traffic detention and his apparent intent to distance himself from his vehicle further raised safety concerns.”
“I know from my training and experience that those who possess contraband items inside vehicles commonly attempt to disassociate themselves from their vehicles when law enforcement is present,” Benza wrote.
Benza added that he feared Brock was going to punch him and that Brock “continuously tried to bite” him. He said he punched Brock “approximately eight times in rapid succession.”
“My punches had their intended effect,” Benza wrote, adding that Brock subsequently stopped trying to bite him and wrapped his arms around his own head.
Benza did not reply to a request for comment.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in an emailed statement that it “takes all use of force incidents seriously.”
“The Department is investigating the information and allegations brought forward by Mr. Brock and his attorney,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, we cannot comment any further at this time due to the pending litigation in this matter.”
Brock was booked at the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station, which is part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he said he told staff he is transgender.
“And the jailer began to just badger me with questions,” Brock said, including, “So, you’re actually a woman?” and “Do you have a penis? If you don’t have a penis, then you’re definitely a woman.”
“I’m seeing him get angrier and angrier every time I deny that I’m a woman,” Brock said. He feared the jail would increase his bail if he argued, so he decided to just nod his head and say “OK.” He added that the gender markers on all of his identity documents say male.
The male jail employee then brought in a female employee who told Brock she was going to need to “see everything,” Brock recalled. So she brought him to a nearby bathroom and he showed her his genitals and explained what surgeries he has had and the effects of testosterone before being placed in a women’s holding cell.
“I’m not sure what I could have shown her on my body that would have been enough for them,” Brock said. “I just felt so demeaned. I felt humiliated. I felt small. Here are these police officers, these sheriff’s deputies telling you to do something while you’re in their custody, and if you don’t want to make it worse for yourself, and you don’t want your bail to be higher and you don’t want to be stuck there longer, you have to comply with anything they say. You are completely powerless.”
The sheriff’s department did not respond to questions regarding Brock’s allegations.
Brock said he was booked on three felony charges of mayhem, resisting arrest and obstruction, along with a misdemeanor charge of failure to obey a police officer. He said he lost his teaching job three days later due to the pending charges and is still unemployed. He said his girlfriend and his parents have been supporting him, but that he is also accruing debt.
Prosecutors have since decided to pursue two misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and battery on an officer, according to arrest records.
Brock said he has anxiety every time he drives his car, because he fears someone from the sheriff’s department will know the make and model of his car and pull him over. The arrest also took one of his greatest sources of fulfillment: his job. He worked as a 12th grade English teacher at an alternative school for at-risk youth.
“That was my self-worth. That’s where I got my fulfillment in life, was helping others, teaching these students and being there for them,” he said. “So when I lost that I just, that was my happiness, and it’s been a lot of depression and hopelessness.”
He said people have asked him if he regrets giving the deputy the middle finger as he drove by, but he said he doesn’t.
“I felt like that’s what I could do in that moment to stand up for that woman,” he said, adding that the deputy appeared to be harassing the woman. “I regret that he reacted so poorly and so angrily and then he beat me for that. But I don’t regret expressing my First Amendment right.”