The District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday its intention to file DUI charges against Tony Denunzio, the man witnesses say was the victim of excessive force delivered by a Santa Barbara police officer during a traffic stop last month. In another revelation unveiled in court Tuesday morning, Denunzio has also been charged with misdemeanor domestic battery for an October 5 incident alleged to have taken place prior to his DUI arrest.
Denunzio, who suffered a broken nose, several abrasions, and sore ribs as a result of his controversial encounter with Officer Aaron Tudor in the parking lot of Loreto Plaza, told The Santa Barbara Independent he’d had only one drink at the Boathouse before heading to Gelson’s to get food. He was initially pulled over, according to authorities, for making three lane changes without signaling.
The DA’s Office, in a statement released Tuesday, said Denunzio will be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 percent, and driving with a suspended license. His license was suspended as a result of a 2009 DUI. He also was pulled over for DUI in 2003 and eventually pleaded to “wet reckless,” or alcohol-related reckless driving.
The DA’s Office would not reveal the exact results of Denunzio’s blood test, though Chief Deputy DA Hilary Dozer did say the test revealed a percentage higher than 0.08. In court Tuesday, Denunzio’s attorney, Darryl Genis, sought a sample of the blood drawn from Denunzio in advance of a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing in early December. Dozer questioned whether, procedurally, Genis was entitled to the blood sample, as no charges have been filed in the case. Judge Brian Hill told the two attorneys he would essentially grant an order for Genis to receive a sample, but wanted to wait until Friday to give the Department of Justice a chance to respond to Genis’s request.
While the DA’s Office appears to be moving forward on the charges related to driving under the influence, its staff was still conducting interviews and investigating what happened in Denunzio’s encounter with Tudor. Several witnesses — and Denunzio himself — told The Independent that Denunzio was compliant with the officer, who quickly became aggressive, striking the man with closed fists. “A police officer is beating up a driver for no reason, and we need help,” witness Ellen Hunter recalled telling emergency dispatchers.
But Police Chief Cam Sanchez, noting in a statement released in the week following the incident that to an outside observer the amount of force used may appear excessive, said he reviewed reports and video and came to the conclusion Tudor used “justified standard law enforcement practices given Mr. Denunzio’s resistance.” Denunzio did not comply with Tudor’s commands, Sanchez said, adding that Tudor’s actions did not warrant a formal administrative investigation.
Up to 16 people have been identified as witnesses, and more videos of the night in question have been located. Four total videos have been reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office — one from inside Gelson’s, one outside the supermarket, the patrol car video, and video taken by a civilian. Dozer, who has seen the videos, said the civilian video was “helpful in an audible fashion,” while the other three videos offered limited evidentiary value, though they could be subject to enhancements which could help. “There are fleeting moments of view,” he explained. “In some videos you see a little bit more.”
A Public Records Act request made by The Independent for 9-1-1 calls and the patrol video was denied by the City of Santa Barbara, which determined the record was exempt from disclosure.
Dozer said he hopes to have a decision before the end of the month. “These interviews and further reports are necessary components of any fair and just decision by this office relating to any potential charges surrounding the events that occurred after Officer Tudor made contact with Mr. Denunzio,” the DA’s statement read.
Denunzio has also been charged with domestic violence in a separate matter. That charge was filed on November 14, according to court records. Sheriff’s spokesperson Drew Sugars wouldn’t reveal many details of the alleged battery because it was a domestic violence case, only noting that deputies were called to a residence at 10:55 p.m. and that Denunzio was one of the parties deputies tried to contact.
Genis said his client denies being guilty of a crime and said his significant other is 100 percent supportive of him. “They’re going to use a weak domestic violence case to boost an even weaker DUI case,” Genis said. “It’s an obvious ploy.” Dozer responded, “If I was a defense lawyer, that’s the kind of spin I’d put out for my client.”