Family says son with Down syndrome struck, pepper-sprayed by deputy

San Diego Sheriff's Dept. apologizes to family

VISTA, Calif. - A North County family contacted 10News saying they are outraged after their developmentally disabled son was beaten and pepper sprayed by a San Diego County sheriff's deputy.

21-year-old Antonio Martinez was walking to his family's bakery in Vista, just before 8 p.m., when his night took a terrifying turn.

10News was there as the scratches on his face and bruises on his arms were still fresh.  They were the painful reminders of what happened to him Tuesday night in Vista.

“He got pepper-sprayed so he's covering his eyes the cop kept saying, ‘get on the floor,’” said witness Melissa Mejia. “He was already on the floor.”

Mejia was working in her family's shop nearby when she heard the commotion.

“He was lying down and the officer had the baton. He kicked him a couple times, like hard,” she added.

Mejia then ran to the bakery and got his older sisters and yelled at the deputy to stop.

“He has Down syndrome. Stop you know, it’s wrong,” she said she yelled. “He wouldn’t stop, he kept going.”

Nearby, Martinez was visibly upset hearing this and reliving what was being told to 10News.

His father Francisco Martinez showed us the bruises where his son was hit.

10News was there as Sheriff's Department Captain Joe Rodi visited the family after the incident.

“We made a mistake here,” he told 10News.

Rodi said deputies were looking for a man in the area, possibly involved in a domestic violence dispute, when they came across Antonio Martinez.

“As the gentleman walked by, he covered his head with the hood of his sweatshirt,” said Rodi.  “Trying to conceal his identity.”

It was an act which raised the deputy’s suspicion.

When Antonio Martinez wouldn't stop walking away as the deputy called out to him, the deputy took matters into his own hands.

“He pepper sprayed him,”  Rodi said.  “When that wasn’t effective, he hit him with a baton, which put him on the ground, and then a couple more strikes to get his hands free. So they could hand cuff him.”

They got him in the patrol car and realized he had Down Syndrome.

The deputy then drove him to the hospital.

“Why the use of force?,” asked 10News reporter Jennifer Jensen.

“Once he tried to contact the guy again he didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know if he was involved in that domestic violence,” Rodi said.

The Martinez family said they have already contacted an attorney.

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