An internal Redwood City police investigation is underway after a video surfaced on Twitter last week showing cops using force while arresting a 36-year-old San Mateo man accused of multiple crimes.
At the city council meeting on Monday, the Redwood City Police Department and city officials got a tongue lashing from residents who had virtually lined up to deliver disapproving remarks on police officers’ conduct in the two-minute-long video shared by Twitter user @jessicagodinez_.
During public comment, residents expressed concern about the police’s use of force in this arrest, using words like “disgusted,” “ashamed,” and “heartbreaking.” Several residents said the number of officers involved seemed excessive and questioned whether the official report reflects the true nature of the altercation.
“I am very displeased and ashamed to see that the Redwood City Police beat someone up,” said Michael Solario, one of six residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting. “In the video that’s circulating, that I’m sure a lot of you have seen, we can see the police officers beat him with a baton while they’re all pinning him to the ground.
“This is a clear situation that shows that police do not deescalate situations, rather they escalate them and they cause violence,” he added.
The video, which has been seen over 1,600 times, shows multiple officers tackling and restraining the man—identified as Vincent Montano—who can be heard saying, “I’m not resisting,” “I can’t breathe,” and “please stop.”
Roughly three to four officers can be seen pinning down Montano and beating him with a police baton as they attempted to arrest him near the Sequoia Station on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
"Appropriate use of force"
An internal review is currently pending to assess the police’s use of force. The names of the involved officers have not been released.
RCPD Lt. Casey Donovan said multiple officers, including Capt. Ashley Osborne, Deputy Chief Gary Kirby, and several lieutenants will review all bodycam footage and police reports.
Osborne said the investigation will go through multiple steps as it makes its way up the chain of command, beginning with a field investigation and up to Chief Dan Mulholland, after which police will make a final determination as to whether any policy or training violations took place during the arrest.
Donovan said that the San Mateo County District Attorney filed charges against Montano for battery upon a peace officer and resisting/threatening an executive officer.
According to police, they received a call around 4 p.m. about a suspect displaying “erratic behavior” near the 1400 block of El Camino Real. The suspect reportedly took a child’s basketball, threw objects at passing cars, and attempted to break into nearby vehicles and push a cyclist off his bike.
Donovan said that two officers were initially dispatched to the scene in what he called a non-emergency, “normal response.” But he added that the responding officers called for back-up when Montano refused to comply and fled up El Camino Real on foot.
Officers caught up with the suspect at Sequoia Station, where the video takes place. The lieutenant corroborated official reports that said Montano resisted arrest and bit an officer twice, causing minor injuries but no skin breakage. He said the suspect also suffered some road rash during the altercation but wasn’t aware of any other injuries.
Donovan said he believes the number of officers and use of force was “appropriate” given the situation and added that the video posted on Twitter doesn’t capture the entire incident.
“You can have three or four officers that have to deal with the subject by placing them in handcuffs. One officer on each arm trying to get his arms into the handcuffs,” he said. “You would need at least a third, possibly a fourth, to hold his legs to prevent any injury to officers. And to prevent, quite frankly, injuries to the suspect as well.”
Donovan said that police are trained in deescalation techniques, including putting distance between themselves and the suspects or instructing them to “stop, put your hands up in the air, get on the ground.”
But, he doubted that either would have been effective in this case, adding that using the baton to strike Montano’s calf was necessary as a pain compliance tool.
“When a subject who committed a crime is running away from you and not compliant, I don't know what else can possibly be done,” he said.
According to District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe, Montano had a rough week, starting October 24, that involved several run-ins with the police and ultimately ended with the arrest at Sequoia Station. Wagstaffe said that the defendant has been charged with a total of 7 misdemeanors for incidents in San Mateo, Menlo Park, and Redwood City. For the events in Redwood City, he has been charged with three counts of auto damage, resisting arrest and assault on an officer.
Montano remains in custody, with bail set at $1,000 and a pretrial conference scheduled for Friday, Nov. 12 at 8:30 a.m. The jury trial will take place on Nov. 19.
Mayor Diane Howard said that she felt police acted appropriately to protect Redwood City and the man himself.
“I've seen the video, and I've spoken to the police chief, and I know the history of this gentleman,” she said. “He definitely needs some intervention, some mental help. But he needed to be stopped from hurting himself and others first; that was the first priority.”
According to Howard, several people contacted her to tell her they were afraid to shop at Sequoia Station because of recent criminal activity.
“They handled it well”
Some people who spoke up at the council meeting did not believe the police department’s official account of what took place on Nov. 2 or they were upset that the incident could have financial repercussions for taxpayers.
“This incident was caught on video, and the police officers are seen beating the individual’s legs and much more, all while he cries out in pain,” a man identified as Emil said during the public comment. “The department has already issued a statement that is riddled with inaccuracies, especially when compared to the video.”
Another resident, introduced as Ian W., condemned the city for not living up to its progressive agenda.
“Redwood City likes to claim it’s different. As other speakers have pointed out, we’re not. We have the same problems,” Ian said. “A lot of people are not aware of the fact that if there ends up being a lawsuit over police conduct, the police don't get punished by that—that comes out of the city’s general fund. So we're paying the bill for their abuse of us.”
Others wondered whether an internal review of the incident would be sufficient to evaluate for possible misconduct and criticized the use of policing to address mental health crises.
It’s unclear whether Montano was suffering from a mental health crisis, but the Redwood City Police are coordinating with the San Mateo County fuel crisis team to do an evaluation.
For her part, Howard echoed Donovan’s skepticism that a mental health expert would have been able to intervene during last Tuesday’s events.
“He was attacking. He was biting,” Howard said. “I thought they handled it well, considering the circumstances.”
She said that’s part of the reason for establishing the Community Wellness and Crisis Response Team (CWCRT) Pilot Program, a new partnership between four Bay Area cities that will pair mental health clinicians with police officers when responding to crisis calls. The pilot will officially launch at the end of the month, according to a city spokeswoman.
In 2019, Redwood City police officers had a 0.98% enforcement contacts resulting in a use of force, the most being control holds, takedowns and body strikes. The total number of incidents reported by the police department was more than 93,000 in 2019.
Redwood City Pulse Editor Michelle Iracheta contributed to this report.
Leah Worthington is the lead reporter at the Redwood City Pulse, a local news site dedicated to providing accurate and timely news to the Redwood City community. Leah can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter, and by phone at 650-888-3794. To read more stories about Redwood City, subscribe to our daily Express newsletter on rwcpulse.com.