Trans man Brock Emmett to sue LA County for sheriff beating, arrest

Brock Emmett LA County Sheriff TRans man

Brock Emmett, a Southern California transgender man, has filed a claim for damages and intends to sue Los Angeles County after he was beaten by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop that was caught on video earlier this year. Photo: Brock Emmett

A Southern California transgender man has filed a claim for damages and intends to sue Los Angeles County after he was beaten by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop that was caught on video earlier this year.

Brock Emmett, a 24-year-old former teacher, was arrested and initially charged with three felonies for the incident that took place Feb. 10.

The felonies (mayhem, resisting arrest, and obstruction) were later reduced to two misdemeanors and then dropped completely by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office following the release of surveillance video contradicting  deputy Joseph Benza’s official version of the beating and arrest in his report. 

The case was dismissed during a hearing on Aug. 10 due to insufficient evidence, Venusse D. Navid, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, said.

Emmett lost his job due to the incident and has not been rehired to his old position.

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Emmett said he will file suit against the county in part because Benza is still employed with the sheriff’s department.

“I would really hope that the deputy is dismissed and punitive action is taken,” Brock Emmett told NBC. “I just can’t feel like this is acceptable behavior on the deputy’s part – to assault another person over hurt feelings.”

Brock Emmett seeks at least $10,000 in damages, according to his attorney, Thomas Beck.

Benza claimed in his report that he pulled over Emmett at a 7-Eleven parking lot in Whittier because an air freshener was illegally hanging from his rear view mirror.

In his report, Benza said that he only punched Emmett repeatedly and bashed his head into the pavement because he feared for his own safety from the smaller Emmett.

Benza also claimed in the report that Emmett bit him. A medical expert, however, determined Benza’s only injury was a fractured hand that Emmett’s attorney said was a fist injury suffered when Benza punched Emmett.

Emmett told the Los Angeles Times was driving home from work when he saw a deputy by the side of the road engaged in a heated discussion with a woman.

Emmett said he was still upset about a fellow coworker who had harassed him earlier in the day about his sexual identity, and flipped his middle finger at the deputy.

Emmett didn’t think the officer would see the gesture, but within moments he was being followed by a sheriff’s cruiser. It’s unclear why the deputy was on the side of the road with the woman.

Emmett said he called 911 to confirm the cruiser was following him, but the dispatcher questioned the reason for his call as Emmett had not been stopped.

When Emmett pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store, Benza followed him and used his vehicle to block him into the parking space.

Surveillance video from the convenience store synched with the deputy’s own recordings showed Emmett calmly asking what is happening when the deputy confronted him and then attacked.

“You’re going to kill me,” Emmett can be heard screaming in the video as Benza body slams him into the ground and pounds his head into the asphalt. “You’re going to fucking kill me. Help! Help! Help!”

“He just kept saying, ‘Stop resisting, stop resisting,’” Emmett told the Times. “I didn’t understand why he was shouting that because I wasn’t resisting.”

In his 11-page arrest report – which made no mention of Emmett’s use of the middle finger – Benza said he was concerned about “safety issues” and didn’t know if Emmett had any “contraband items” hidden in his car during the confrontation.

Benza claimed he only became violent when Emmett “cocked his right hand back into a fist, indicative of someone about to throw a punch.”

Benza also claimed Emmett “continuously tried to bite” him throughout the arrest, but he was able to subdue Emmett after punching him in quick succession.

“My punches had their intended effect,” Benza said.

Emmett said he underwent a humiliating genital exam at the sheriff’s station in Norwalk to prove he was a trans man, but was still housed with female prisoners.

An internal use-of-force review cleared Benza of wrongdoing, the sheriff’s department said in a statement, even though the surveillance footage showed that Benza’s official story wasn’t true.

Thomas Beck, Emmett’s attorney, said he contacted Sheriff Robert Luna twice to open a criminal investigation about Benza, but was ignored. Beck said he eventually received a “form letter” from another sheriff’s official saying an “administrative investigation” had been opened, but it had not been started.

Beck said Benza’s beating of Emmett is part of a larger pattern of abuse at the sheriff’s department.

“This is but one of three recently publicized brutality cases with deputies in July. It is not an anomaly by any means,” Beck told Q Voice News.

“I’ve had 68 to 70 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cases since 1979 and their responses in each, save one, was never to hold the miscreants accountable.

“This is a huge issue at the sheriff’s department and a Robert Luna promise during the election last year was to change that and become more transparent than his predecessor,” Beck said. “The opposite is proving to be true.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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