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Trans man arrested, beaten by deputy asks to be declared innocent

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For more than two hours, Emmett Brock waited outside a Downey courtroom. He sat, he stood, he fidgeted, he paced in the emptying hallway. Finally, he heard his name and went inside.

It was March 8, 2024, exactly 392 days after he’d been beaten by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in front of a 7-Eleven, then arrested and accused of biting the lawman who pummeled him. Afterward, he’d been sent to the Norwalk station lockup and booked for three felonies and a misdemeanor. By the time prosecutors dropped the case seven months later, he’d already lost his high school teaching job.

It had been a painful year, and to put it behind him Brock wanted a judge to declare him innocent. His lawyer had filed the paperwork, and now Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Evan Kitahara was going to decide on the request.

Twenty minutes after entering the courtroom, Brock walked out an innocent man.

Just over a week later, he filed a federal lawsuit accusing the deputy of “felony crimes” and alleging the department had covered them up.

“I can finally exhale,” Brock told The Times after learning of the judge’s decision. “It felt like I’d been holding my breath for over a year.”

Even if the new developments bring some peace of mind for the Whittier man, they could signal trouble for the deputy who arrested him. When Deputy Joseph Benza made the February 2023 arrest, he signed a declaration under penalty of perjury saying Brock had bitten him.

At this month’s hearing, Kitahara determined there was “no evidence” of that.

Benza is “susceptible to being decertified,” said Brock’s attorney, Thomas Beck, suggesting the deputy could lose his California peace officer certification for alleged dishonesty and be banned from working in law enforcement. “And on the use-of-force issue, he could be prosecuted.”

According to documents Beck filed in court, the FBI has been looking into the case since last year. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office confirmed to The Times this week that local prosecutors are reviewing the matter as well.

Attorney Tom Yu, who is representing Benza, has maintained for months that his client did not do anything wrong. And records show a Sheriff’s Department review last year cleared the deputy’s use of force.

“I wholeheartedly disagree with Mr. Beck’s representation of what occurred,” Yu wrote to The Times in an email. “I am confident that the federal judge will throw all of the suspect’s claims out during this litigation.”

The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Monday that it had not been served with the lawsuit but confirmed the incident had been investigated and the findings are under review.

“Our top priority is the safety of everyone involved in any encounter,” the statement said.

On the morning of Feb. 10, 2023, Brock had just left work at Frontier High School when he spotted a deputy who appeared to be berating a woman on the side of the road. As he drove by, Brock casually threw up his middle finger, thinking the deputy wouldn’t see it.

Emmett Brock was driving home when he was stopped and beaten by a sheriff's deputy.

Emmett Brock was driving home from his job as a teacher when he was stopped and beaten by a deputy outside of a 7-Eleven.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

According to the lawsuit filed this week, the deputy abandoned the roadside confrontation, hopped in his cruiser and started tailing Brock. Each time Brock made a turn, the cruiser mirrored his move — but the deputy inside didn’t turn on the lights or sirens and didn’t try to pull him over, Brock said.

Fearing he was being followed by someone impersonating a police officer, Brock called 911 and asked what to do.

“If he hasn’t pulled you over, he hasn’t pulled you over,” the dispatcher said, according to a recording of the call shared with The Times.

But a few minutes later, Brock pulled into a 7-Eleven parking lot on Mills Avenue in Whittier. As he stepped out to buy a drink, the deputy approached him.

“I just stopped you,” Benza said, without explaining why.

“No, you didn’t,” Brock replied, according to an audio recording captured by the deputy’s body camera.

“Yeah, I did,” the deputy said, grabbing Brock’s arm. The deputy then “overwhelmed young Brock,” according to the lawsuit, and “without uttering another word, violently took Brock to the pavement.”

For the next three minutes Brock struggled as the deputy held him down, all of it captured on the 7-Eleven’s surveillance camera.

“You’re going to kill me! You’re going to f— kill me,” Brock shouted, screaming for the deputy to stop.

“Instead Benza rained at least 10 closed fist punches at Brock’s head and face,” the suit says, “while Benza used his greater body weight to pin the plaintiff to the ground as he continued to angrily pummel Brock with both fists, scraping his knuckles in the process.”

After Brock was in handcuffs, the deputy put him into the back seat of his cruiser. Brock was bloodied and his glasses were broken but, according to the lawsuit, the deputy still hadn’t explained why he’d stopped him.

When a sergeant arrived on scene, Brock told him he’d been beaten in retaliation for giving a deputy the finger — an act that could have been a violation of the department’s policy explicitly banning the use of force in retaliation for disrespect.

“Instead of immediately recognizing Benza had committed a felony crime of assault against Brock,” the suit said, the sergeant “purposefully ignored plaintiff’s complaints and took no action.”

As other deputies arrived, Benza showed them his bruised knuckles and blamed Brock — but he didn’t say anything about being bitten, according to the lawsuit. When paramedics arrived, the suit says, he didn’t tell them anything about a bite, either.

Before leaving to go back to the station, Benza and several sergeants walked into the 7-Eleven, according to a 32-page innocence petition Beck filed in court on Brock’s behalf. The lawmen went into the store’s camera room and stayed there for a little over 10 minutes, “presumably screening the audio-free 7-Eleven video recording of the assault,” Beck wrote in the petition.

“With knowledge of this damaging evidence,” Beck continued, the deputy drove back to the station and “falsely reported” to a supervisor that he’d only thrown punches because Brock had bitten his hands.

Then, the petition says, Benza went to urgent care and said he’d been bitten on his right hand — though the physician assistant who treated him wrote in his report that there was bruising but “no bite marks.”

After he left urgent care, Benza filed his declaration under penalty of perjury saying he’d been bitten on his left hand. He said the incident started when he’d been on a routine patrol and decided to stop Brock after spotting an air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror. He left out any mention of stopping a woman on the side of the road and said nothing about Brock giving him the finger.

In an interview with The Times last year, Benza’s attorney said that’s because the person Brock passed on the side of the road wasn’t his client, but another law enforcement officer probably from another agency.

Now, Beck said, there’s evidence to disprove that.

“I have been advised that the FBI has downloaded Benza’s cell phone GPS data and was able to corroborate Mr. Brock’s claim of being pursued along the route Benza claimed he never took,” Beck wrote in the innocence petition. (The FBI told The Times this week that it does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.)

When he was taken to the Norwalk station for booking — on offenses including mayhem and injuring an officer while resisting arrest — Brock was asked to give a statement, during which he explained he is transgender. One jailer asked if he was a girl, he said, and another asked to see his genitals before deciding to put him in a women’s holding cell.

Though his family bailed him out, Brock said, he lost his job when state authorities notified the school of his arrest. County prosecutors initially charged him with two misdemeanors, but dropped the case in August.

Last fall, Beck said, federal prosecutors reached out, handing over some of the materials he hadn’t been able to get from the Sheriff’s Department and asking to interview Brock. With the new materials, Beck filed a petition asking a court to declare his client innocent.

Now in graduate school, Brock showed up to the hearing this month flanked by his mother, several classmates and a professor. Dressed in a black suit and a green tie, he stood in front of a judge as his lawyer explained the case, arguing for a declaration of “factual innocence.” The prosecutor agreed, and the judge entered a tentative ruling finalized last week.

“Though I am happy that I am factually innocent, I don’t think it will ever be over for me in my heart,” Brock told The Times. “It’s something that I still think about every single day.”

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Barcelona 1-4 Paris St-Germain (Agg: 4-6): Kylian Mbappe scores twice as PSG reach last four

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PSG players celebrate
Paris St-Germain are into their first Champions League semi-final in three years

Kylian Mbappe scored twice as Paris St-Germain thrashed Barcelona to turn around a first-leg deficit and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

PSG had trailed 3-2 after the first leg in France but took advantage of an early Barcelona sending off to secure their place in the last four for the first time since 2021.

Luis Enrique’s side face a semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, who beat Atletico Madrid 5-4 on aggregate in a thrilling encounter in Germany.

The semi-final first leg takes place on 30 April with the second leg on 7 May.

More to follow.

helpHow to play

Rate players out of 10 throughout or after the game. The rater will close 30 minutes after the final whistle.

Rating range key1 = Give it up10 = Pure perfection

Barcelona

  1. Squad number1Player nameter Stegen

  2. Squad number23Player nameKoundé

  3. Squad number4Player nameAraujo

  4. Squad number33Player nameCubarsí

  5. Squad number2Player nameJoão Cancelo

  6. Squad number8Player namePedri

  7. Squad number22Player nameGündogan

  8. Squad number21Player nameF de Jong

  9. Squad number27Player nameYamal

  10. Squad number9Player nameLewandowski

  11. Squad number11Player nameRaphinha

  1. Squad number5Player nameMartínez

  2. Squad number7Player nameF Torres

  3. Squad number14Player nameJoão Félix

  4. Squad number32Player nameLópez

Paris Saint Germain

  1. Squad number99Player nameG Donnarumma

  2. Squad number2Player nameHakimi

  3. Squad number5Player nameMarquinhos

  4. Squad number21Player nameHernández

  5. Squad number25Player nameNuno Mendes

  6. Squad number33Player nameZaïre-Emery

  7. Squad number17Player nameVitinha

  8. Squad number8Player nameRuiz

  9. Squad number10Player nameDembélé

  10. Squad number7Player nameMbappé

  11. Squad number29Player nameBarcola

  1. Squad number4Player nameUgarte

  2. Squad number11Player nameAsensio

  3. Squad number19Player nameLee Kang-in

  4. Squad number23Player nameKolo Muani

Line-ups

Barcelona

Formation 4-3-3

  • 1ter Stegen
  • 23Koundé
  • 4AraujoBooked at 29mins
  • 33Cubarsí
  • 2CanceloSubstituted forJoão Félixat 82′minutes
  • 8PedriSubstituted forF Torresat 62′minutes
  • 22GündoganBooked at 64mins
  • 21F de JongSubstituted forLópezat 82′minutesBooked at 90mins
  • 27YamalSubstituted forMartínezat 34′minutesBooked at 40mins
  • 9LewandowskiBooked at 50mins
  • 11RaphinhaBooked at 90mins

Substitutes

  • 5Martínez
  • 7F Torres
  • 13Peña Sotorres
  • 14João Félix
  • 17Alonso
  • 18Romeu
  • 19Roque Ferreira
  • 26Astralaga
  • 30Casadó
  • 32López
  • 38Guiu
  • 39Fort

PSG

Formation 4-3-3

  • 99G DonnarummaBooked at 87mins
  • 2Hakimi
  • 5MarquinhosBooked at 62mins
  • 21Hernández
  • 25Nuno Mendes
  • 33Zaïre-EmerySubstituted forUgarteat 80′minutes
  • 17Vitinha
  • 8RuizBooked at 45minsSubstituted forAsensioat 77′minutes
  • 10DembéléSubstituted forKolo Muaniat 88′minutes
  • 7MbappéBooked at 40mins
  • 29BarcolaSubstituted forLee Kang-inat 77′minutes

Substitutes

  • 1Navas
  • 4Ugarte
  • 9Gonçalo Ramos
  • 11Asensio
  • 15Danilo
  • 19Lee Kang-in
  • 23Kolo Muani
  • 26Mukiele
  • 28Soler
  • 35Lopes Beraldo
  • 37Skriniar
  • 80Tenas

Referee:
István Kovács

Live Text



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Magnitude 2.8 earthquake reported in View Park-Windsor Hills

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A magnitude 2.8 earthquake was reported Tuesday at 8:19 a.m. Pacific time in Los Angeles’ View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake‘s epicenter was 7.1 miles beneath the intersection of Overland Drive and Northridge Drive, near Windsor Hills Elementary School. .

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

An average of 59 earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.0 and 3.0 occur per year in the Greater Los Angeles area, according to a recent three-year data sample.

Did you feel this earthquake? Consider reporting what you felt to the USGS.

Are you ready for when the Big One hits? Get ready for the next big earthquake by signing up for our Unshaken newsletter, which breaks down emergency preparedness into bite-sized steps over six weeks. Learn more about earthquake kits, which apps you need, Lucy Jones’ most important advice and more at latimes.com/Unshaken.

This story was automatically generated by Quakebot, a computer application that monitors the latest earthquakes detected by the USGS. A Times editor reviewed the post before it was published. If you’re interested in learning more about the system, visit our list of frequently asked questions.

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Justice Thomas returns to Supreme Court after 1-day absence

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is back on the bench after an unexplained one-day absence.

Thomas, 75, was in his usual seat, to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts as the court met to hear arguments in a case about the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thomas has ignored calls from some progressive groups to step aside from cases involving Jan. 6 because his wife, Ginni, attended then-President Donald Trump‘s rally near the White House before protesters descended on the Capitol. Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, also texted senior Trump administration officials in the weeks after the election offering support and reiterating her belief that there was widespread fraud in the election.

On Monday, Roberts announced Thomas’ absence, without providing an explanation. Justices sometimes miss court, but participate remotely. Thomas did not take part in Monday’s arguments.

He was hospitalized two years ago with an infection, causing him to miss several court sessions. He took part in the cases then, too.

Thomas is the longest serving of the current justices, joining the Supreme Court in 1991.

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