Interrupted by an intoxicated heckler during an outdoor on-camera interview about homeless issues, Santa Barbara Police Lt. Paul McCaffrey wrestled the heckler to the ground and handcuffed him, allegedly fracturing the man’s elbow in the process. The KSBY news crew who had been interviewing McCaffrey caught most of the incident, which occurred on May 22, on camera, broadcasting it on the station’s Web site under the heading “Raw Video: Santa Barbara Transient Arrest.”
The online video cuts in on the lieutenant-who serves as the SBPD public information officer-responding to one of the questions but distracted by the taunting of 26-year-old Eric McTague, who stands in the background shouting “Blah blah blah!” while a friend tries to shush him. A written summary of the raw footage on the KSBY site reads that the segment being shown follows “ten minutes of cursing and threats directed at our cameraman and Santa Barbara Public Information Officer Lt. Paul McCaffrey.”
The physical confrontation took place about two minutes after the interview ended, according to KSBY. The camera starts rolling again shortly before McCaffrey, dressed in street clothes, starts delivering a series of increasingly forceful pushes to the young man’s chest while telling him to leave. The officer then tells him to “go around” if he wants to walk though. McTague insists that he doesn’t want any trouble but does not leave. McCaffrey then repeatedly dives for the young man’s arm, and at one point attempts to put him in a headlock, but McTague-who according to friends was a high school wrestling champion-eludes McCaffrey’s hold for about 45 seconds, despite appearing stoned and puzzled. McTague neither attacks nor complies, but asks McCaffrey, “What are you doing?” several times.
McCaffrey finally succeeds in grabbing McTague’s hand and twisting his arm behind his back, repeatedly commanding, “Get down, you’re under arrest!” The cameraman, who had put his camera down during the final part of the scuffle, then turns it on again as McCaffrey, sitting atop McTague, asks McTague if he is going to fight anymore, to which McTague responds, “No, I’m not.” McCaffrey proceeds to handcuff McTague’s right arm, then he twists and bends it far up behind McTague’s head while ordering McTague to bring his left arm behind his back. “Higher,” McCaffrey yells.
McTague, who has meanwhile been yelling “Ow, that hurts,” says afterward, “Damn, brother, that really hurt.” When uniformed officers arrive on the scene, they can be heard telling McTague, in response to a faintly audible question, “He’s a police officer, of course.” McTague then starts swearing at McCaffrey, “You broke my fucking arm.”
On Thursday, McTague explained why he had been shouting obscenities. “Drunk and disorderly,” he said. He declined to reveal details about his life, though his arrest citation listed a Goleta address. McTague’s wrist was bandaged with athletic tape, but the elbow was exposed and disfigured; he claimed to have taken off the cast applied at the hospital. He resisted his friends’ urgings to put the arm in a sling. “I’ll be all right,” he said. He said he chipped his tooth during the arrest.
Interviewed on Thursday at a makeshift campsite, McTague claimed he thought McCaffrey was a reporter. Two women with whom McTague was sitting-both of whom had been homeless in Santa Barbara for at least 20 years-said that McCaffrey greeted them by name, but they claimed to be unfamiliar with the officer. An outreach worker from Casa Esperanza arrived and offered McTague an opportunity to view the KSBY video, explaining that an attorney was interested in filing a complaint about the arrest.
While emphasizing that he was not going to deliver a critique of the arrest, Deputy Chief Richard Glaus said that it looked to him as though McTague, who held onto a chain-link fence for part of the scuffle, was resisting arrest. He noted that if in fact McTague’s elbow was fractured during the arrest, it did not necessarily crack while McCaffrey was cuffing him; the injury could have occurred while the two were still scuffling (a segment of the interaction not caught on tape because the cameraman stopped filming). “I’ve never seen [use of force] when it didn’t look ugly-and it is, and that is exactly why we don’t like to use it,” said Glaus, who noted that arm and hand injuries happen “occasionally” when suspects are being cuffed.
McTague was cited on one count of being intoxicated and disorderly, plus one count of interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duty, but as of Tuesday, May 29, the district attorney had not yet filed charges, nor had a claim been filed against the Santa Barbara Police Department.
(Photo courtesy KSBY Action News)