RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Prosecutors here in Los Angeles are being asked to look into what happened last week when an officer with the California Highway Patrol - the CHP - was caught on video repeatedly punching in African-American woman on the side of a freeway. The video has since gone viral and civil rights activists have called for swift action against the officer. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji has more.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: During evening rush hour in Los Angeles last Tuesday, a CHP officer was caught on cell phone video beating a barefoot woman who was trying to run into traffic.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He is beating her up, yo.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, my gosh. Why?
MERAJI: In the video, the male voice is saying, he's beating her up, yo. And the female voice says, oh, my gosh, why? Just before that, they were laughing about the CHP officer chasing after the woman, saying arrest her. But the laughter stopped as they witnessed the officer throw her on the ground and repeatedly punch her face and head.
NATHANIAL MARTIN: They don't treat dogs like that on the California freeways. They stop traffic.
MERAJI: Reverend Nathanial Martin came to the West LA CHP office for a meeting with religious and civil rights leaders and CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. Martin lives in Inglewood and says he's seen this before in his community, just not with the CHP.
MARTIN: Looks just like police brutality, you know, to use a hackneyed phrase - the old R word is definitely at play in this.
MERAJI: The R word meaning race?
MARTIN: Meaning race, yeah, bigotry, bias, hatred - the whole nine yards.
MERAJI: The CHP officer, who has yet to be named, is white and the woman he punched repeatedly is black. Her name is Marlene Pinnock. She's in her 50s, suffers from mental illness and is homeless. Many of the activists who showed up said the whole affair is disturbingly reminiscent of the videotaped beating of Rodney King.
JOE FARROW: My response, as well as the response of my entire command staff, was one of grave concern, if not shocking.
MERAJI: Commissioner Farrow spoke to reporters after the meeting that went on for nearly two hours. He promised a swift investigation into the incident and says he's working closely with the LA district attorney's office to make that happen. Farrow came to LA from his office in Sacramento to address the leaders' concerns in person.
Do you think this was racially motivated?
FARROW: I don't know. We're in the fact-finding of this investigation right now to answer the question that you just asked me, and that is principal to what we're trying to do. And so it'd be premature for me to offer up my opinion because what - eventually when the day is over, it has to be based upon fact. And that's what those investigators are going to try to find out.
MERAJI: The CHP officer at the heart of the investigation is still working, but not in the field. Marlene Pinnock is in a mental health facility in Los Angeles and according to her attorney, John Burris, who worked on the Rodney King civil suit, she's recovering. After the press conference, the activists in attendance said they'll be protesting the Saturday near where the incident took place. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And we want to thank you for starting your day here with us at NPR News. There is more ahead. Remember to tune into All Things Considered later today.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.