Former Baldwin Park police officer charged with assaulting teenager

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Los Angeles, CA - June 18: Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon, joined by members of SEIU Local 2015 and other local leaders, addresses a news conference held on the steps of Hall of Justice on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón outside the downtown L.A. Hall of Justice in June. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Baldwin Park police officer was charged with two counts of assault for allegedly beating a teenager who had surrendered after a short foot chase in 2019.

Ryan Felton, 35, pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault under the color of authority in connection with the September 2019 incident, in which he is accused of kicking the teen while he lay on the ground and then pummeling him in the back of a police cruiser, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

“Those who wear the uniform must follow the law," Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a statement.

Prosecutors said Felton and another officer ran after the teen when he fled from a vehicle that had ignored orders to stop. After a brief chase, the teen lay down on the ground and surrendered, according to the district attorney's office. Felton is accused of "kicking the teen while he was on the ground and assaulting him while he sat in the back of Felton’s squad car."

Joshua Visco, an attorney representing Felton, dismissed the charges as a "political stunt" by Gascón, who was elected last year after a campaign that focused on criminal justice reform and police accountability. Asked how the case could be political when the investigation into Felton's actions was carried out by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, rather than the district attorney's office, Visco held firm to his stance.

"This case is nothing more than a political stunt by a politician who has never once tried a case in criminal court and believes that hard working police officers who serve their communities everyday are the bad guys," he said in an e-mail to The Times. "I am confident that as due process plays out, the reasonableness of Mr. Felton’s actions will be brought to light."

An excessive-force lawsuit was filed by the teen and his family in federal court last month against the Baldwin Park Police Department, Felton and Police Sgt. Joseph Meister. The teen, identified in court papers as Anthony Romero, was 16 at the time of the incident.

According to the suit, Felton chased Romero through an alley and ordered him to surrender. When Romero complied and lay on the ground, Felton ran up and kicked him in the ribs and then again in the face, according to the lawsuit.

Once Romero was handcuffed, the lawsuit alleges, Felton repeatedly punched him in the back seat of his police cruiser and then banged the teenager's face off the metal grate separating the front and rear seats. Part of the incident was captured on video, according to the lawsuit, which also claims other officers witnessed Felton's conduct but failed to intervene.

Romero's mother, Anjelica Estrada, told The Times on Wednesday that her son was sleeping over at a friend's house and that the incident happened early in the morning. Estrada said that when she arrived at Baldwin Park police headquarters to pick up her son, Felton told her he "had to rough him up a bit to teach him a lesson.” But once she saw the teen, she was "horrified."

"I immediately started to cry. He was missing a shoe, he was wearing light colored khaki pants covered in boot prints," she said. "He had a black eye. Cuts on his wrists, cuts on his head.”

The suit also alleges Meister struck Romero in the head several times once the teen was in custody at Baldwin Park police headquarters and threatened to rough him up further. Prosecutors are still reviewing possible criminal charges against Meister involving the alleged attack on the teen, according to Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Baldwin Park Police Capt. Chris Hofford said Felton and Meister are no longer employed by the department. Baldwin Park police asked the sheriff's department to conduct a criminal investigation related to the officers' conduct due to the potential conflict of interest, Hofford said.

All criminal charges against Romero were dismissed, said Wesley Ouchi, a civil attorney representing the family.

Estrada said the attack has caused her son to become withdrawn, and now both of them tense up at the sight of a police cruiser.

"He’s not the same boy that he was. He used to be more social, he used to joke around a lot," she said. "Now, I feel like a part of him is just not there anymore."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.