Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

A brutal beating by two police officers of an Indigenous man in California near the Nevada border has left more questions than answers.

Just after 2 a.m. Saturday, police came across an “agitated” man with his dog in an empty parking lot in Bishop, California. Now the man, George Barlow, III, Paiute, age 32, reportedly is in intensive care, and his dog is dead.

Police had received a call about violation of a restraining order. No one linked to the call was found. But the two responding officers did see Barlow yelling outside a closed gas station on the Bishop Paiute Reservation.

Some of what followed is shown on a video posted on social media.

The sheriff's office also issued a near 14-minute video of the incident.

The body cam video shows one of the officers contacting the Paiute man, who said to officers, “Can I kill you too?”

“Barlow then charged the deputy with his pit bull closely behind him,” the Inyo County Sheriff’s office said in a prepared statement. “The deputy continually ordered Barlow to stop charging. When Barlow came within 10 feet, the deputy deployed his Taser.”

Video shows Barlow falling to the ground and the two police officers kicking and punching him. “Both deputies received dog bites before a deputy was able to shoot the dog,” says the police statement. The dog was seen next to Barlow when it was shot dead.

The last scene in the video shows Barlow walking toward one officer, who was backing away, then pivoting toward the other officer.

The police statement said Barlow grabbed a police baton then released it after he was pepper sprayed.

Barlow reportedly ignored verbal commands.

So, the statement reads, “the Sheriff’s Office deployed its canine which was able to subdue Barlow until an additional officer from the Bishop Police Department arrived and they were able to handcuff Barlow. Deputies immediately provided medical aid until an ambulance responded to medically clear Barlow before transport.”

The sheriff’s office Monday evening released the body cam video with a statement reading in part, “in order to provide total transparency,” saying “we want the people we serve to have as much information as possible when we have a critical incident, even before the investigation is complete and the facts fully known,” stated Sheriff Jeff Hollowell. “I understand how important this case has become to our public, it is equally important to me and my staff, and I hope we can evolve through this together as a community.”

The Sheriff also met with the Bishop Paiute tribal council Tuesday “to field questions and quell rumors. We value our relationship with our local tribes and look forward to continued years of partnership,” said Sheriff Office’s public information officer Carma Roper.

The police has outlined next steps. The Sheriff’s Office will investigate the incident. The Inyo County District Attorney will conduct a criminal investigation of the deputies to evaluate their use of force that resulted in serious injury. A Use of Force Review Board will be convened. Findings will be turned over to a professional outside firm to review and provide a written report, which will be used to evaluate whether the officers violated policies and procedures.

Friends, relatives and others have posted comments on social media. Some shared statements of support, and asked people to call the Sheriff's Office for a full investigation.

Others shared their grief and anger about the incident. Some praised Barlow’s good nature, saying he has a big smile, infectious laugh, and a good heart.

Others said law enforcement in the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierras region of California, has a history of brutalizing Native citizens with” little to no justice.”

One person asked about restitution to Barlow and his family for the financial, emotional, and physical stress. Another commented that paid leave and training for the police officers is not enough.

Still others are angry about criticism of the police they’re seeing on social media.

The family did not respond to interview requests from Indian Country Today.

Sierra Wave Media has published a photo of George Barlow on a breathing tube in the hospital. 

Correction: this story was corrected to remove a wrongly attributed quote and add a summary of social media comments.

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