RENO - A Reno police officer has been placed on leave pending an investigation of allegations he used excessive force on a handcuffed suspect while a surveillance videotape was rolling in a casino's security holding room.
Frank Johnson, a 19-year police veteran, is accused of choking and directing racial insults at the Hispanic suspect, Deputy Police Chief Jim Weston said.
The security staff at the Eldorado Hotel and Casino turned over the tape to police and reported that the officer used an unnecessary amount of force on the 19-year-old suspect who was handcuffed in their holding room, Weston said.
''It appears from the videotape that he used more force than necessary. The evidence is pretty clear,'' Weston told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Eric Tijerina, 19, of Reno, said Wednesday in an interview at the Washoe County Jail the officer grabbed him around the throat while he was shackled to a chair and called him a ''beaner.''
''He had me in a chair by my neck and was holding me down,'' Tijerina told the newspaper. ''He made racial remarks to me. Mexican stuff. He called me a gang member and a punk.''
Tijerina said he and a minor friend were apprehended at the casino when they ran out of money and started taking coins out of a fountain for gambling.
He has been in jail since the Sept. 7 incident and has pleaded guilty to charges of petty larceny, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and battery.
Judge Ken Howard sentenced Tijerina to six months in jail, suspended the sentence, put him on probation and ordered anger management and alcohol treatment. Tijerina said he will be released from jail Oct. 1.
Reno police detectives began investigating Johnson's actions last week, when Eldorado security guards reported the Sept. 7 incident and gave police the tape. The security guards waited to report the incident until their supervisor came back to work from vacation, Weston said.
Weston said Johnson was placed on paid administrative leave Friday while the allegations are investigated. The case will be forwarded to the Reno city attorney, who will decide whether to file criminal charges against Johnson.
The police department will conduct an internal affairs probe once the criminal investigation is completed, Weston said.
Tijerina said he never complained about the treatment and was unaware of the investigation until two Reno detectives visited him Wednesday.
''I didn't think anyone would do anything about it because he is a cop,'' he said.
Tijerian said he was drunk and struggled with security guards at the casino. They took him to a detention room, handcuffed him and tried to strap him into the chair. He said he continued to struggle until a police officer arrived.
''I was being calm then because he is a real police officer,'' Tijerina said.
He said one security guard was in the doorway when the officer grabbed his neck, but doesnt remember if anyone else witnessed it.
Tijerina estimated the officer held his neck for about two minutes and cussed in his face. He said it hurt, but he could still breathe.
When the officer let go of his neck, he unstrapped him from the chair and led him to the waiting transport wagon.
''I was bleeding a little here,'' he said pointing to his left wrist. ''He switched the handcuffs because they were too tight. I guess that was cool.''
He did not require medical treatment, Weston said.
Tijerina said he worked as a construction laborer before his arrest. He attended Hug High School until 11th grade, when he said he dropped out because of lack of credits.
He said he has been arrested several times before, once for stealing clothes from a department store and again for probation violations. He said he wasn't treated badly by police then.
Reno police officers have been involved in at least two similar incidents. In 1990, Anthony Tivis twice punched a handcuffed suspect in a holding room at the Club Cal-Neva. A jury awarded William Wilcox $10,000 in a civil suit against Tivis, who quit the police department.
In 1992, a district court jury found Officer David Kinamon innocent of charges he beat a handcuffed man in a holding room at the Club Cal-Neva. He is still a Reno police officer.
Both those incidents were recorded by surveillance cameras.