Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ex-Modesto cop claims officers 'pummeled' suspects

Ex-Modesto cop claims officers 'pummeled' suspects

By Merrill Balassone

A vivid account of police brutality came to light Tuesday after a judge ruled an e-mail written by a retired Modesto police sergeant be released as evidence in a murder case.

In the e-mail, Sgt. Craig Plante writes about the "good ol' days" when veteran police officers taught new recruits the "unwritten rule:" You could beat "anyone who ran from us."

"The bad guys knew it as well as we did," Plante wrote. "If we chased you, it was coming. … You were pummeled, taken to Scenic Hospital, put to the front of the line, patched up and booked."

The biggest "B&R event" — when officers would beat and release people — was Modesto's Graffiti Night festivities, Plante wrote. Police would remove their name tags before doing it, the sergeant said. Plante said he wore another officer's name tag from 1986 through 1991, the only dates referenced in the e-mail.

"You'd start hitting, they'd start running and eventually they'd escape into the crowd," Plante wrote. "The SWAT (team) had their own 'Strike Squad.' … They'd pour out and start clubbing people … until everyone ran away."

Police Chief Mike Harden confirmed Tuesday that Plante sent the e-mail to his colleagues on his last day of work, Sept. 12. Harden said he was "deeply disappointed," but said there was no specific name or incident mentioned in the e-mail that the department could investigate. He said Plante's e-mail was merely "self-aggrandizing."

"It's either a reflection of his career or it's made up," said Harden, a 27-year veteran of the department. "I think it's inaccurate. It's not how this Police Department was run then and surely not now. This department does not willy-nilly use force without a legal justification to do so."

In an e-mail to The Bee late Tuesday, Plante said he first heard a veteran officer use the term "beat and release" after breaking up fights at Graffiti Night, when thousands of people jammed downtown Modesto and McHenry Avenue to celebrate classic cars. He said these were not "one-sided affairs" but officers "fighting with groups of people," some of whom evaded arrest by fleeing into the crowd.

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