By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Detective Eric Knudson with La Mesa Chamber of Commerce President Mary England during "Salute to Local Heroes" event, where he was honored in 2018
July 23, 2020 (La Mesa) – La Mesa Police today identified the officer who fired a beanbag that struck protester Leslie Furcron on the forehead during a chaotic protest outside the LMPD station on May 30, 2020, seriously injuring the Lemon Grove grandmother. Police also release two body camera videos of the incident, as well as a critical incident video and additional information.
Detective Eric Knudson, a 12-year veteran of the LMPD, fired the bean-bag round from an elevated patio approximately 96 feet away. Knudson was hailed in 2018 as a “local hero” by the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, when Police Chief Walt Vasquez praised him as “the nicest guy.”
Body cam footage makes clear that Furcron had hurled an object, believed to be a can, toward police and an officer’s voice is heard saying “That was the guy who’s throwing things. The guy who is down right now.”
According to a statement prepared by the department, the incident came after officers were “continuously attacked and struck with large (baseball-to-softball sized) rocks, water bottles (many of which were frozen) and pots and pans” for several hours.
“The police station was seriously vandalized, to include acts of arson, spray painting and the breaking of windows. … La Mesa City Hall and (its) council chambers sustained extensive fire and looting damage,” the statement reads.
A video released by police on the incident also includes dispatch audio and photos indicated fire ablaze in the police parking lot. An unlawful assembly had been declared at 5:09 p.m., shortly after an act of arson was committed in the front plaza and protesters began throwing rocks at officers. Multiple orders to disperse were also given. City Hall down the block had also been set ablaze.
Furcron was standing near a Civic Center sign when she was struck by the bean bag round at 8:16 p.m.. Video shows a barrage of objects, some striking officers, shortly before she was struck and seriously injured by the beanbag, which was embedded between her eyes. Protesters picked up Furcron approximately one minute after she was hit and carried her to a vehicle, which transported her away from the station.
She was hospitalized, placed in an induced coma and underwent surgery. She has lost vision in one eye, according to her attorney, Dante Pride, who has contended that Furcron was targeted for exercising free speech rights, including calling police “murderers” during the protest.
Video live-streamed by Furcron had shown her stating she was entering a “riot” and calling for the police station to be burned down, though it appears the officer who fired the beanbag was unaware of that and mistook Furcron for a man.
Detective Knudson is on paid administrative leave as an investigation continues. The District Attorney’s office will review the investigation when completed to determine whether the officer should be charged with any crime. LMPD policy requires that beanbags, if used for crowd control, be aimed at the torso. However the substantial distance and fact that Furcron had moved forward as she hurled the can make it unclear whether the officer aimed at her torso or higher.
At a press conference after her release from Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Furcron stated, “'m a law-abiding citizen. And I never came out here at night for this to be a part of my story."
Chief Vasquez issued a statement which reads in part, “I continue to pray for Ms. Furcron and hope that she continues to heal and makes a full recovery for her family at home. Rest assured that the men and women of the La Mesa Police Department are committed to providing quality and professional police service to our community. It is my hope that we will continue to heal the wounds, nurture an environment of open communications and make La Mesa a safer place to live.”
View critical incident video: https://youtu.be/T_SWmCcrhIY
Video body camera footage from Detective Knudson (partially obscured by patio wall): https://youtu.be/LfkbY2NtvEk
Video body camera footage from a second officer next to Knudson: https://youtu.be/jgJ4MMBey6U
View timeline of events during protest and subsequent riot, in which several buildings were burned dow, released by the City of La Mesa: https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/sites/eastcountymagazine.org/files/2020/May/LMRiotsTimeline.pdf?912
View statement by LMPD Walt Vasquez: https://youtu.be/w6aPn7kQbvg