Updated at 7 p.m. Oct. 20, 2012
A San Diego police sergeant shown pulling a distraught woman by the hair at a fire scene is the subject of an internal police probe, authorities said Saturday. He also may be sued, the victim told U-T San Diego.
“Due to allegations arising from this incident, we are conducting an internal investigation into the matter,” said Lt. Andra Brown, a police spokeswoman. “Because it is a personnel matter, we are not able to make any further comment.”
Video taken at a fire scene Friday on Ilex Avenue in Nestor showed police Sgt. Dan McLaughlin struggling with a woman, later identified as Torazzi Hayslett, outside her burning home and dragging her by the hair as she tried to get closer.
Hayslett ran screaming toward the structure, and firefighters and San Diego police officers struggled to restrain her, the Patch video shows. The video has been shown on local television as well.
While being carried away from the scene, Torazzi grabbed part of a fire truck.
Husband Alex Hayslett was pulling her away when McLaughlin forcibly took her hand from the truck, and she swung at the officer’s face. He reacted by dragging her by the hair, video shows.
At one point, the officer reached over Alex to grab Torazzi by the hair.
Minutes later, Torazzi Hayslett was in handcuffs, dismaying a crowd of more than 50 onlookers and neighbors.
“Put yourself in her shoes,” said Frank Rodriguez, who watched from the sidewalk. “I think it’s wrong. How would you feel if your house was burning? And she’s seeing that, and then she tries to get closer to see and then the cops. ... Come on, man.”
Torazzi, a 32-year-old second-grade teacher at Nubia Leadership Academy, a charter school in Encanto, left the scene before speaking with IB Patch.
This apparently is not the first time Sgt. McLaughlin has gotten into a scuffle with members of the public.
In May 2011, a San Diego Superior Court civil jury found McLaughlin used unreasonable force in a violent confrontation with a homeless advocate named John David Ross, also known as the “Water Man.”
Ross was awarded $2,925 for medical costs, according to U-T San Diego.
Ross, who was 74 at the time of the March 2009 incident, testified that he was distributing water from the back of his vehicle “when McLaughlin pulled up and told the crowd to disperse. The officer then threw one of the homeless men, Myron Hill, against a wall,” according to U-T San Diego.
“When Ross asked what was happening, the officer twisted Ross’ arm and tossed him to the ground. Ross said he suffered a concussion and exacerbated an old injury to his right shoulder,” the U-T said.
Ross and two homeless men with him claimed that McLaughlin and another officer committed battery, civil rights violations and false imprisonment.
In Friday’s incident, Sgt. Hernandez, who declined to give his first name, said he did not witness the fight and was unable to comment, but said Torazzi was detained and later released.
San Diego Fire-Rescue received a call about the house fire in the 2000 block of Ilex Avenue in San Diego, blocks outside of Imperial Beach, shortly before 5 p.m., said Batallion Chief Alfredo Duron.
“We suspect it started in the garage and then spread into the home and eventually the second floor,” Duron said who noted an investigation will also take place.
Imperial Beach and San Diego Fire-Rescue units responded to the call with four engines and one ladder truck. It took crews about 20 minutes to subdue the flames, a dispatcher said.
U-T San Diego reported Saturday night that Hayslett is in the process of hiring an attorney. She told the paper she thinks the officer overreacted.
“My husband had me the whole time,” she was quoted as saying. “I’m like 110 pounds on a good day.”
Fire officials estimated the damage at $400,000 but did not determine the cause of the blaze, which apparently started in the garage and extended into the second floor.
“It’s just a hard time,” Hayslett told the U-T. “I am just trying to get some clothes on my baby’s back and trying to figure out where we are staying the night.”
Did the officer use excessive force or was he just trying to do his job? Share in comments.
—City News Service contributed to this report.