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Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin orders internal investigation into case of teen who was attacked by police dog after being mistaken for a man

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Tatyana Hargrove, a 19-year-old girl, alleges in a now-viral video that she was mistaken for a 170 pound man suspected of making criminal threats. Police arrested her and deployed a K9 unit to attack her. 

Three days after a 19-year-old woman alleged in a now-viral video that she was punched by an officer and attacked by a police K9 in a case of mistaken identity, Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin has opened an internal investigation into the incident.

It’s something of a departure from the department’s stance earlier this week, which was that the use of force against Tatyana Hargrove was appropriate given the circumstances. On June 18, an officer had mistaken the petite black teen for a machete-wielding, 5 foot 8 inch tall, 170-pound bald black man.

“The case was initially reviewed, however Chief Martin has been very open and transparent about building, maintaining and strengthening relationships within the community,” BPD Sgt. Ryan Kroeker said. “... That is why he ordered an internal investigation.”

Results of the investigation won’t be released to the public, Kroeker said, citing a peace officer’s bill of rights and various government codes barring the department from doing so.

None of the involved officers have been placed on administrative leave, Kroeker added.

Hargrove’s case has received significant attention since Monday, when the NAACP's Bakersfield chapter posted a Facebook video of Hargrove recapping her experience.

It had been viewed more than 4.5 million times by Wednesday afternoon and became a national headline, with outlets like The Washington Post and New York Daily News, by way of the Associated Press, picking up the local story.

In the video, the woman alleges she was stopped by police after heading out to pick up a Father’s Day gift near Ming Avenue and Ashe Road. BPD Officer Christopher Moore, who was responding to reports of a man threatening employees and customers at a nearby store, stopped Hargrove, who he said matched the description of the suspect, according to a police report obtained by The Californian.

In the ensuing confrontation, Hargrove was punched in the mouth, bitten in the leg by a police dog and then arrested on suspicion of resisting or delaying an officer and aggravated assault on an officer, according to BPD arrest records.

The NAACP says Hargrove was targeted for her race. BPD says it was a case of mistaken identity.

Moore wrote in his report that he thought Hargrove was a man until he handcuffed her and asked her name.

NAACP Bakersfield Chapter President Patrick Jackson called that “baffling” and said the level of outrage about the mixup has helped fuel the national attention Hargrove’s story has attracted.

“People are getting fed up with law enforcement taking advantage of their power. Her story is really transparent,” Jackson said. “Someone looks at that story and says ‘how does an officer make the mistake of identifying her as the person they’re trying to capture?’ I believe people can get behind that story.”

The attention has also been helped along by the delivery method, Jackson said. His organization allowed Hargrove to share her side of the story in an effective way.

“It gives the victim the opportunity to put her story out there. In Tatyana’s case, her voice is able to be heard,” Jackson said. “She feels alone. She feels depressed. She doesn’t feel like she has support. This gives her the opportunity to feel support and allow people to get behind her story and support her.”

Hargrove’s incident, and the resulting national attention, comes at a time when the department, beleaguered by years of high-profile incidents, is feeling some heat. It all came to a tipping point last year.

Two BPD officers were convicted of stealing methamphetamine from evidence lockers and selling it back to the public. Then BPD officers in December shot and killed Francisco Serna, a 73-year-old man with dementia who they thought was carrying a gun. It was a crucifix.

Then-Attorney General Kamala Harris launched civil rights investigations into BPD and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

BPD has since attempted to repair its image, launching public relations campaigns, including a video series titled "Why I Wear the Badge" that has gained positive attention. Many people have watched those videos, but the numbers don't compare to the millions of views Hargrove's negative experience has garnered via Facebook. 

"Officers of this department show up every day to do a public service. We attempt to do everything we can to show the public that we’re trying to maintain a professional relationship with our community, and sometimes things don’t always appear to be positive," Kroeker said. "But it's a difficult job. Ultimately, we're going to do everything we can do to be transparent." 

The NAACP started a petition Tuesday calling for the officers involved to be placed on administrative leave. It also called for the Kern County District Attorney to file charges against the officers; the formation of a citizens oversight committee; a budget for police body cameras; the FBI and U.S. Attorney General’s Office to file charges against the officers based on “deprivation rights under color of law”; and for Hargrove’s case to be included in the California Attorney General’s investigation into BPD’s alleged civil rights abuses, which began in December after several high profile shootings.

The petition has so far received more than 4,700 signatures.

The NAACP is hosting a rally for Hargrove at the Liberty Bell outside of Kern County Superior Court at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and has started a GoFundMe account in her name.

​Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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