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

San Diego Sheriff's Dept. apologizes to family

VISTA, Calif. - A California family is outraged after their developmentally disabled son was beaten and pepper sprayed by a sheriff's deputy.

Antonio Martinez, 21, was trying to walk to his family's bakery in Vista just before 8 p.m.

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

Mejia then ran to the bakery and got Martinez's older sisters and yelled at the deputy to stop.

"(I yelled), 'He has Down Syndrome. Stop, you know, it’s wrong,'” she said. “He wouldn’t stop, he kept going.”

10News was there as Capt. Joe Rodi visited the family to apologize. He admits to us the department was in the wrong.

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

Capt. 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, trying to conceal his identity,” Rodi said.

It was an act that 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, Rodi said. The deputy then drove him to the hospital.

"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 says they have already contacted an attorney.

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