Attorney John Burris and Black Lives Matter announce legal action against cop who brutally assaulted small 14-year-old child

Black Lives Matter video 

by Lee Houskeeper

Sacramento – The law offices of John Burris, through its lawyers John Burris and Adante Pointer, filed a legal claim against the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department on behalf of the 14-year-old minor who was recently brutally assaulted by Sacramento Sheriff Deputy Brian Fowell. Deputy Fowell is contracted out to the City of Rancho Cordova as a police officer.

The claim is the first legal step toward bringing legal action for violations of the minor’s civil rights as well as other misconduct. Given his young age, his Aunt Leataie Tagalo is bringing the case on his behalf. 

According to Burris, “The facts captured on a bystander’s cell phone are especially egregious because it vividly shows the officer forcefully attacking the minor, then grabbing, punching and tossing him to the ground.” Burris goes on to state, “This is particularly disturbing in that the boy is slightly built, weighing no more than 120 pounds. 

“At the same time, Deputy Fowell appears to be twice his size and heavily muscled, as evidenced by the way the deputy physically manhandled the minor.” Burris asserts, “The officer’s aggressiveness was disproportionate to any wrongful conduct by the minor, which at best was purchasing a ‘sweet cigar’ and not giving his proper name.” 

The officer’s conduct physically injured the minor, who, during the incident, was frightened and clearly yelling, “What did I do?” Burris was also extremely disturbed after watching the video. “You can hear Officer Fowell asking the minor, ‘What are you,’ suggesting to me racial animus.” The minor ethnically is Samoan. 

Burris says that the cell phone video captures in real-time Officer Fowell’s outrageous and bullying conduct. “But for this video, it would have been the word of a seasoned police officer against that of a 14-year-old boy. We may not have captured the essence of the officer’s mean spirit, physical superiority and lack of regard for the minor’s well-being.”

Attorney Adante Pointer states: “Given Officer Fowell’s apparent inability to maintain his cool and instead resort to violence when none was needed shows he cannot be trusted to patrol the community with a badge and a gun. He must be fired!”

Contact Lee Houskeeper of San Francisco Stories at

Blunt trauma: Cop beats Black teen over cigar, sparking outrage and familiar Swisher Sweet debate

by Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

A shocking video of a police officer beating a 14-year-old boy over a Swisher tobacco cigarette is being shared across social media platforms around the world. The boy’s ethnicity is Samoan, but he can easily be mistaken for African American.

In the clip that has been re-posted tens of thousands of times, a Rancho Cordova deputy is captured pummeling the youth in his chest as he presses him to the ground in an incident that happened April 27.

Now, the family of the teen is calling for the firing of the officer, although stating that they understand the case involves a minor in possession of a cigarillo.

“There is no valid reason for Brian Fowell, an officer of the law, to punch a child in the face and chest. There is no valid reason for an officer to push a child’s face into the ground against a curb by their neck,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento in a written statement to California Black Media. “This 14-year-old boy posed no threat to this officer, and the actions Officer Brian Fowell took are dangerous for our community.”

The incident happened near a 7-Eleven store where the Rancho Cordova Police Department (RCPD) reports that the youth received the tobacco cigarette from an adult.

“The video of the Rancho Cordova deputy repeatedly hitting and slapping a much smaller unarmed 14-year-old boy is disturbing to us as parents and frustrating to us as lawmakers,” reads a statement the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) released to California Black Media. 

“Over the last few years, the legislature has made clear their expectations about the appropriate use of force and the need to find alternatives, especially when it comes to unarmed minors,” the statement continued. 

Race, police use of force, Black teens and nicotine addiction

For decades now, activists have targeted tobacco products in the state of California, partially to deter young people from smoking or chewing the cured and dried leaves, which contain nicotine and can lead to addiction. 

Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, has been a major force in the anti-tobacco crusade in California. One of the main arguments she makes to lawmakers is her view that tobacco manufacturers target Black people with their products. 

“As horrific as this video is, what is more horrific is that the biggest invisible killer and profiler of Black boys, the tobacco industry, will be able to latch onto it and use the legitimate concerns of our community to block public health policies . . .”

McGruder has been working hard to put the brakes on menthol cigarettes, cigarillos like Swishers, and e-cigarettes, which are used for vaping, a favorite way to consume tobacco among teens. Vaping has led to severe respiratory illnesses among first-time smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Anger, disgust, rage, these are the feelings we felt as we watched the video,” said McGruder. “Rage that another Black boy was traumatized by police brutality. As horrific as this video is, what is more horrific is that the biggest invisible killer and profiler of Black boys, the tobacco industry, will be able to latch onto it and use the legitimate concerns of our community to block public health policies that would stop the industry from profiling and addicting our children.”

Some Black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network agree that tobacco is harmful to Black teens. But they also believe that over-taxing or outlawing the substance – particularly menthol cigarettes, which Blacks smoke the most – creates an illicit underground market that puts young Black people under the scrutiny of law enforcement officers. 

He cites the case of Eric Garner in New York City. Garner was illegally selling “loosies,” unlicensed retail cigarette sticks, before police officers subdued, suffocated and killed him. Police surveillance, they say, increases the odds of dangerous, often times deadly, run-ins with the law like the one involving the cops and Garner – or the teen in Rancho Cordova. 

“Often, tobacco and marijuana are used as smoke screens for racism and abuse in policing in Black and Brown communities,” says the Rev. Tecoy Porter, president of the Sacramento branch of the National Action Network. “We must condemn those practices.”

Anti-tobacco laws in California and around the U.S. 

The California legislature has passed several laws aimed at curbing the use of tobacco. But neither lawmakers, nor the state’s health – nor its law enforcement – authorities have enacted explicit policy safeguards to prevent what happened in the Rancho Cordova incident, critics say. 

San Francisco County was the first county in California to ban menthol cigarettes in the summer of 2017. In California, no statewide ban has been put in place against the sale of flavored tobacco products. However, certain cities and counties in the state have instituted local ordinances prohibiting purchases.

The county of Sacramento banned the sale of menthol cigarettes as of Jan. 1 of this year.

In September 2009, cigarettes with specific characterizing flavors were prohibited in the U.S., as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA) that gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products.

Despite the FDA’s ban on flavored cigarettes, the overall market for flavored tobacco products continues to prosper. Tobacco companies significantly stepped up the introduction and marketing of flavored and other tobacco products (OTPs), particularly e-cigarettes and cigars, as well as smokeless tobacco and hookah tobacco.

‘Black boys aren’t born with a Newport or a Swisher Sweet in their mouths’

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says that tobacco companies claim to be responding to “adult tobacco” users’ demands for variety, but flavored tobacco products still have a key role in luring new users, they say, particularly kids, to a lifetime of addiction. 

“Black boys aren’t born with a Newport or a Swisher Sweet in their mouths,” says McGruder. “Our community must understand that there is a highly organized and efficient system that does that.”

McGruder and other anti-tobacco lobbyists say the police-use-of-excessive-force case in Rancho Cordova may have blown the lid off a problem that has been simmering for years. It has also put a focus on the Rancho Cordova Police Department and past allegations of police brutality. 

Black lawmakers, Rancho Cordova PD release sparring statements 

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt Tess Deterding said in a written statement that the deputy was in the area responding to citizens’ complaints about sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors. 

“It’s important to put the video footage into context, especially in relation to a use-of-force incident. In this case, the deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile,” Deterding stated. 

Rancho-Cordova-PD-Sacramento-Sheriff-Officer-Fowell-beats-boy-14-for-Swisher-042820-by-his-uncle-Justin-Tufono, Attorney John Burris and Black Lives Matter announce legal action against cop who brutally assaulted small 14-year-old child, Local News & Views
Buzzfeed News reports: “Twitter user @Ohnana__, who identified herself as the boy’s sister, said he has a serious heart condition “that could be triggered very easily by being hit in his chest/back! He’s a kid and has never been in any kind of trouble with the law,” she tweeted. “He was very scared and in so much pain!!!” And “Tanya Faison, the founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, told the Guardian … ‘How can you look at a child’s face and let that be the target for your fist?’” – Photo: Justin Tufono, the boy’s uncle

The RCPD account stated that the officer had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring and the deputy attempted to detain the juvenile so he could continue the investigation. The juvenile became physically resistive, the RCPD continued in their written statement, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs. 

The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him, the report said. Ultimately, the deputy recovered tobacco products from the 14-year-old, which the RCPD presumes is the reason for his resistance.

“These are the facts as we understand them at this time. This investigation is in its infancy and the facts as we understand them now are subject to change as we conduct a more thorough and complete examination of the circumstances surrounding this incident,” Derterding stated.

In March 2019, African American twins, Carlos and Thomas Williams, say the officers of RCPD allegedly choked and beat them before taking them into custody. 

But Black lawmakers responded to the RCPD official statement, countering that “this use of force is in no way proportional to the suspected crime or justified by the actions of the child. We will monitor this situation closely and expect that the officer will be held accountable for the abusive actions taken in the name of public safety.”

African Americans in Rancho Cordova 

Rancho Cordova is approximately 14 miles east of downtown Sacramento. It was incorporated as a city in 2003, and has its own municipal officials, including a mayor, city council, fire department and the Rancho Cordova Police Department that is contracted through the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. 

The city – whose history stretches back to the Gold Rush days of the mid-19th century and the era of the Pony Express – has a population of over 74,000, the World Population Review reported, a number based on a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. 

The city, once home to Mather Air Force Base, is 60 percent White, 13 percent Asian, 21.6 percent Latino and 8.9 percent African American.

Out of 6,347 Black people who live in Rancho Cordova, 23 percent have household incomes below the poverty line, the highest number of all ethnic groups in the city, according to the World Population Review. Most African Americans live in some of the most underserved and hard-to-count census tracts in the state, according to California Black Media’s “Counting Black California: Roadmap to The Hardest-to-Count Census Tracts” report. 

Past allegations of police misconduct 

Last week’s incident was not a first. The RCPD has been accused of aggression before and it has been hit by police misconduct lawsuits involving the Black community in the past. 

In March 2019, African American twins, Carlos and Thomas Williams, say the officers of RCPD allegedly choked and beat them before taking them into custody. 

The brothers filed a civil rights violation lawsuit, which claims they were arrested on a trumped-up charge at Carlos Williams’ home. 

Adanté Pointer, an attorney at the John L. Burris law firm in Oakland, who was speaking on behalf of the family of the 14-year-old Rancho Cordova teen, said this is too often the case. 

“We’re talking about a kid buying tobacco and an officer with an opportunity to actually build community relationships in dealing with a young man,” said Pointer. “Instead, I’m certain, he’s left a mark on this young man’s spirit, soul and brain that will live with him for the rest of his life.”

California Black Media, serving California’s Black press, boasts a record of ensuring that the Black viewpoint remains central to all of the debates that shape life in California. CBM staff can be reached at