A veteran police officer accused of bribing witnesses in the brutal beating of a man has been placed on leave during an investigation of the "horrific" allegation, a San Francisco Bay Area sheriff said on Tuesday.
This is the third officer to be placed on leave in connection with the beating last November, which caused a sensation after security camera video of the incident went viral.
The two sheriff's deputies seen pummeling the suspect on the video, Luis Santamaria and Paul Wieber, were previously placed on leave. The officer accused of bribery has not been officially identified.
The news comes amid heightened scrutiny of police use of force after several notable confrontations with suspects that have triggered protests across the country over the past two years.
Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern told reporters at a news conference that he learned of the bribery allegations from news reports and the attorney for the beaten suspect, Stanislav Petrov.
"If that horrific event occurred," meaning if the deputy tried to pay off a witness, "that will end up in termination," Ahern said. He declined to name the deputy under investigation but said he has been with the department for about 20 years.
Petrov's attorney, Michael Haddad, could not be immediately reached for comment, but told the Oakland Tribune newspaper that the deputy approached a homeless couple in the alley where the violent arrest occurred and asked the man if he "had enjoyed the show."
Haddad said an officer then gave the man a gold chain, money and a pack of cigarettes that belonged to Petrov.
The Sheriff's Office said that early on a November morning, Petrov fled from authorities in a suspected stolen car, caused a deputy to suffer minor injuries after he rammed a police cruiser, and led officers on a high-speed chase before he crashed into a parked car and fled on foot.
A security camera video, which went viral after it was uploaded on YouTube the day after the incident by the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, shows Petrov running into an alley, where he is tackled by one of two Alameda County Sheriff's deputies on the scene.
The video shows the deputies punching and hitting Petrov with batons at least three dozen times as he screams. Petrov tries to stand, then surrenders and shields himself from the blows.
The alleged bribery was not captured on the publicly posted security video.
The San Francisco County District Attorney's Office is actively investigating the case, but charges have not been filed.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Editing by Sara Catania abd Bernard Orr)