The Santa Barbara Police Department is reviewing the case of a suspect who was detained on suspicion of driving under the influence, after several witnesses claimed the arresting officers used excessive force.
At approximately 9:40 p.m. on Friday, Officer Aaron Tudor pulled over 50-year-old Santa Barbara resident Tony Vincent Denunzio in Loreto Plaza on Upper State Street after the suspect allegedly failed to signal during three lane changes. According to witness accounts and an SBPD press release issued on Monday, Denunzio received several strikes to the head and ribs as well as numerous taser stuns from officers before he was arrested for driving without a license, driving under the influence and resisting arrest.
According to the department’s press release, Denunzio disregarded Tudor’s verbal command that he remain in his 2007 Chevy Avalanche, prompting Tudor to grab the suspect’s arm and attempt to force him to the ground. Tudor’s incident report alleges that Denunzio “physically resisted by tensing his body and refusing to place his hands behind his back,” at which point the officer requested backup and tripped the suspect to the ground.
“The officer told Denunzio several times to stop resisting, but Denunzio continued to resist. The officer then delivered several palm strikes to the back of Denunzio’s head,” the press release said. “ … The palm strikes were ineffective, and Denunzio continued to struggle and physically resist the officer. The officer then delivered a knee strike to the area of Denunzio’s ribs. The officer followed up with several hand strikes to Denunzio’s rib area.”
According to witnesses, Denunzio — who is on probation with a suspended license for a prior DUI — did not appear to be resisting arrest and yelled for help as Tudor struck him over a dozen times. Witnesses claim Tudor tasered the suspect repeatedly, despite onlookers’ protests, only stopping once backup arrived.
The department’s statement said Tudor struggled to detain the suspect and was only able to do so with the help of additional officers.
“Denunzio continued to resist for more than a minute before being subdued by the officers,” the release said. “During the struggle, an officer delivered a knee strike to Denunzio’s face, which allowed the officers to handcuff him.”
SBPD Police Sergeant Lorenzo Duarte said multiple officers then drew an involuntary blood sample from Denunzio at Santa Barbara County Jail before allowing him to receive treatment for a broken nose and injured ribs at the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. According to Tudor’s incident report, Denunzio also sustained taser wounds as a result of the altercation.
Duarte said Santa Barbara Chief of Police Camerino Sanchez will review footage captured on a patrol vehicle’s camera to determine whether further investigation is required.
“[Chief Sanchez’s decision] is going to be based on all the reports and evidence that accompanies,” Duarte said. “The chief wants to review everything in its entirety before he makes a decision. He realizes that the media is waiting for a response.”
The police department requests that anyone who witnessed the incident contact the department at (805) 897-2347.