Police assault caught on tape

South El Monte - Sheriff's deputies were videotaped beating two suspected illegal immigrants with batons after a 70-mile chase.

One deputy, holding his baton two-handed like a baseball bat, swung repeatedly at a person prostrate beneath him. A handcuffed woman was slammed against the pickup truck involved in the chase. About 20 suspected illegal immigrants were packed into the pickup. The suspected illegal immigrants are Mexican and the deputies are white.

"It's another Rodney King," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, referring to the 1991 case when four white officers were videotaped beating a black motorist.

The South El Monte videotape was shot by two news helicopters overhead. The unidentified male driver suffered bruises and a possible fractured elbow from the baton blows, said Sergeant Mark Lohman, spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Sgt Lohman said the other occupants were uninjured.

The group was taken to an Immigration and Naturalisation Service centre for questioning.

The sheriff's department immediately launched an internal investigation and placed two deputies on paid administrative leave. The deputies' names were not released. "We're very embarrassed and we're seriously concerned about the actions of our officers," Sgt Lohman said.

The chase began when the pickup truck driver refused to stop for Border Patrol officials. They suspected illegal immigrants were aboard because the truck was on a road frequently used to bypass a checkpoint about 60 miles north of the border.