KERN COUNTY - When did law enforcement officers become the enemy? That's the question the Kern County Sheriff has been asking himself as of late, after several in-custody deaths have raised questions about local law enforcement's morality. So is police brutality an epidemic or is there another side to this story?
We talked to several Kern County peace officers who have been shot, bitten, and stabbed.
One night in February 2010, Bakersfield police officer Felipe Juarez responded to a typical call with his partner.
"Two subjects fighting, one with a knife," said Juarez.
But, the events to follow would leave him with an atypical scar.
"We ordered him to show us his hands. He would not comply," said Juarez.
So Officer Juarez and his partner tried to take the man by force. "Took him to the ground, but he kept standing back up," said Juarez. "Kind of went in on him and picked him up off the ground and his head was above mine and he bit down on my head."
The bite left a mouth-shaped hole in the top of Juarez's head.
"We have a much more violent society than we had 25 years ago," said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
As is evidenced by the 1,102 Bakersfield police officer injuries in the last decade, like Officer Dennis Eddy who was shot in the foot and Isaac Aleman who was shot in the leg.
"Police work is hours of boredom mixed in with a few moments when you're scared to death," said Rob Heiduk, retired Bakersfield police officer.
Yet many see the badge not as the symbol of a hero, but as the mark of a villain.
"I'll tell you when I came back from Vietnam in 1971, I felt exactly what I am feeling today about law enforcement, exactly the same," said Sheriff Youngblood. "The public thinks you're the enemy. How dare you do what you did."
Officer-involved shootings are viewed sometimes as intentional.
"They know for a fact what that officer committed for a murder, an execution," said Bernie Lopez whose son died in an officer-involved shooting in October 2012.
"There was no weapon when they shot him," said Gabriel Gurrola whose brother died in an officer-involved shooting.
Arrests caught on tape are viewed as police brutality.
"I just think they beat him to death and sat there and thought it was a game," said Luz Ramos whose brother died in Kern County Sheriff's Department custody.
"When a deputy makes an arrest there's a faction out there that call that a beating," said Sheriff Youngblood.
According to our records, there have been 20 civilian deaths involving cops in Kern County since 2011, 17 of those were in officer-involved shootings. All were ruled justified or accidental by law enforcement. But, through the eyes of the public they're murder.
"This is how Kern County works, just another killing, another black," said Ermestine Martin, whose brother-in-law died in an officer-involved shooting.
Retired Sheriff's Deputy Tom Morgan was involved in two officer-involved shootings during his career. The first in 1987, left a man fatally wounded and Morgan critically injured.
"It was at a car stop. I had seen a motorcycle with the headlight out," said Morgan.
But, when Deputy Morgan approached the male driver, he attacked with a knife.
"The first stab wound went into my upper back. The second one went through my right arm, and the third one went into my left leg," said Morgan. "As soon as I was able to, I drew and fired my weapon. He staggered back. I fired again and then he took off running, much to my surprise."
"When someone is shot, if they are not shot in the brain, the heart, or the spine they keep coming. They don't stop. They don't go flying backwards like we see on TV," said Sheriff Youngblood.
Deputy Morgan fired six times before the man fell and died. "I spent a night in ICU, a week and in the hospital and about a year being rehabilitated," said Morgan.
But almost exactly ten years later, Deputy Morgan's life was on the line again. "Right out of the box we got a call to the area of Cottonwood and Brook," he said.
Morgan says he and his trainee immediately spotted two suspicious men. But, just as one of the men was searched, he took off running behind a house.
"I ordered him to put his hands where I could see them. He ignored me entirely," said Morgan. "He didn't have a gun in his hand so I couldn't actually justify firing at him at that moment."
So Morgan decided to take him into custody by force.
"I remember feeling his hands going into his pants and a very short time later I remember a blinding flash of light and I was unable to move at all," said Morgan. "I felt as if I was floating in warm water. I had no sensation anywhere in my body."
That's because Morgan had been shot in the neck. Regaining feeling, Morgan grabbed his backup weapon.
"He was able to grab the weapon out of my hand and turn it at me. He did not know how to use the weapon so he attempted twice to get it to fire," said Morgan. "I was able to find a board and I swung it up and smacked him in the head with it."
Officers arrived soon after, but Morgan would forever be scarred.
"It took out my vocal chords. All I've got there is scar tissue," said Morgan. "I think law enforcement is one of the few jobs where many of the people you're trying to serve, actively hate you."
Detective Rob Heiduk knows that hatred firsthand.
"I was actually on my way home from lunch," said Heiduk when he heard an unknown call on the radio. "I thought I'm just about there. I'll just go by."
It was then he saw a suspect with a gun.
"I was in my car. I opened my car door, went to point my gun at him and we shot each other," said Heiduk.
Detective Heiduk was hit in the hands.
"I couldn't feel it at first, but the pain was like the Energizer bunny, just kept going and going and going and going," said Heiduk.
This shooting was the first time Heiduk was hit, but not his first gun battle.
"I'd been in three other shootings before that," said Heiduk.
But, he said each one could have been prevented.
"If the cops come to you and say 'you're coming with me, turn around, put your hands behind your back,' it's all good," said Heiduk.
But, that's not what always happens.
"Their goal is to get away anyway they see fit," said Juarez. Injuring deputies and officers along the way.
Each altercation is a mark on law enforcement's reputation. A reputation that many feel is losing life with each round fired.
"Somewhere along the last five years we've become the enemy, and that's so distasteful to me," said Sheriff Youngblood.
Deputy Morgan and Detective Heiduk have since retired from the line of duty. Officer Juarez is still on patrol.