California Police Officer Charged With Felony Assault for Kicking Minor in 2021 Arrest, DA Says

Rachel Acenas
By Rachel Acenas
June 4, 2024US News
California Police Officer Charged With Felony Assault for Kicking Minor in 2021 Arrest, DA Says
A police car with flashing lights in file photo on Jan. 17, 2022. (The Canadian Press/AP/Matt Rourke)

A southern California police officer was charged with felony assault on Monday for kicking a minor in the head during an arrest caught on camera three years ago.

Gonzalo Zendejas, 39, was charged with allegedly assaulting a juvenile in connection to the June 5, 2021, incident, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced in a press release.

Mr. Zendejas, along with three others, were placed on administrative leave after cell phone video captured the commotion between them and a suspected shoplifter at the Glendale Galleria mall.

The officers, according to the Glendale Police Department (GPD), were alerted by mall security who claimed they observed two juveniles shoplifting.

The 2021 footage, widely circulated on social media, showed plainclothes officers punch the alleged thief in the face several times. A third officer, identified as Mr. Zendejas, can be seen in the video kicking the suspect in the head.

In the footage, police are heard yelling, “Turn around on your face! It’s police, we told you!”

The suspect, lying on the ground, can be heard pleading with the officers.

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe! Stop!” he said in the video.

The suspect was eventually arrested on suspicion of petty theft and resisting an officer by force. The stolen merchandise was recovered, according to law enforcement officials.

While the DA officially filed charges against Mr. Zendejas, no charges have been filed yet against the three other officers involved in the arrest. Those officers remain unidentified.

“While police officers face an extraordinarily challenging and demanding job while working to protect our communities, this responsibility does not excuse actions that endanger others or undermine public trust,” the district attorney said in a statement.

“This incident is a serious violation of the duty to serve with integrity and respect. Our office’s commitment is to ensure that justice is served, and all individuals, regardless of their role or position, are held accountable for their actions,” Mr. Gascón said.

GPD said in its own statement that it launched a separate investigation following the arrest. Its internal probe remains ongoing.

“While attempting to detain the suspect, a struggle ensued and force was used by the officers,” the police department said following the 2021 arrest.

GPD said it further sought additional assistance from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney’s office and pledged that there would be a “thorough and transparent review” of the incident.

“From the onset of this investigation, the Glendale Police Department has provided the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office with all reports, statements, audio, and video to aid in their process. This was done to be fully transparent and assist in a complete and thorough investigation of the facts and evidence surrounding the incident,” the department said in a statement after charges were filed on Monday.

“The Glendale Police Department is committed to maintaining the highest ethical standards in service and ensuring those we encounter daily are treated with dignity, respect, and professionalism, regardless of their background or circumstances,” the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, the department’s internal administrative investigation remains ongoing “as the outcome was pending the completion of the criminal investigation,” police said.

Mr. Zendejas faces a maximum sentence of three years in county jail if convicted.

He will be arraigned at a later date at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

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