Violent arrest of a transgender man in LA leads to investigation

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is facing an investigation over the violent arrest of a transgender man earlier this year.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is facing an investigation over the violent arrest of a transgender man earlier this year.
Flickr/Tracie Hall

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has launched an investigation in response to a recently-surfaced surveillance video that appeared to show a police officer violently beating a transgender man in a parking lot in February.

The out trans victim, 23-year-old Emmett Brock, said he was beaten by the officer, Joseph Benza, after he flipped him off for allegedly acting aggressively towards a woman on the street, according to NBC News. Brock explained that after flipping off the officer, the deputy entered his car and began following him without police lights on. Brock allegedly called 911 as he was being followed and said the dispatcher told him that if there were no lights or sirens, he was not being pulled over and could continue to his destination.

However, as Brock pulled into a 7-Eleven and got out of his car, Benza allegedly approached him and threw him to the ground. The video then shows Brock being beaten in the head. For three minutes, he was allegedly held down and repeatedly punched in the head. 

Brock and his lawyer released the surveillance footage from the encounter. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to comment.

According to Benza and his lawyer, the officer was trying to pull Brock over for something hanging in his rearview mirror. The officer claimed in the arrest report he had his lights on, according to NBC News, but the surveillance footage shows the lights off when the police car pulls into the parking lot. 

Benza and his lawyer, Tom Yu, stated that Brock’s behavior was enough to raise suspicions of him being armed or trying to resist arrest (though there is no clear reason as to why he would be arrested for the alleged violation). 

“A traffic stop is inherently dangerous,” Yu said. “It evolves very fast, very rapidly. You don’t know if a person is armed. So my client immediately took control of that situation in an attempt to stop Mr. Brock from walking away from that traffic stop.”

Brock was subsequently brought to jail, where upon revealing he was transgender, was allegedly subjected to uncomfortable questioning about his gender and genitalia. He was then allegedly forced to show a female officer his genitalia by stripping in the bathroom and explaining his surgeries and the effects of testosterone. 

Despite identifying as male, Brock was allegedly placed in the woman’s holding cell. 

“I’m not sure what I could have shown her on my body that would have been enough for them,” Brock said, according to NBC News. “I just felt so demeaned. I felt humiliated. I felt small. Here are these police officers, these sheriff’s deputies telling you to do something while you’re in their custody, and if you don’t want to make it worse for yourself, and you don’t want your bail to be higher and you don’t want to be stuck there longer, you have to comply with anything they say. You are completely powerless.”

Making matters worse, the incident resulted in Brock losing his job, according to NBC News. Brock was fired from his job as a teacher three days later due to the pending charges.