Lawsuit alleges Sonoma County deputy used excessive force

Lawsuit alleges Sonoma County deputy used excessive force

  • Gabbi Lemos (left) is shown at her graduation from Petaluma High School in June and (right) two days after her arrest a few days later. (FAMILY PHOTOS)

Deputy Marcus Holton assaulted and arrested Gabbi Lemos, 18, after she complained about how he was treating her sister, actions that violated both her constitutional right against police brutality and her right to free speech, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecific damages, names Sheriff Steve Freitas, the county and Holton as defendants.

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Cecile Focha defended Holton’s actions during the June 13 incident, which was recorded on the deputy’s body camera. Holton continues to work full time as a patrol deputy.

“All of our deputies, including Deputy Holton, behaved with restraint and professionalism during a highly volatile situation,” Focha said.

The Sheriff’s Office has not conducted a formal internal affairs investigation into the matter because Lemos did not file a complaint against Holton, Focha said. However, the deputy’s supervisors reviewed the incident, including the body camera footage from all six deputies who responded to the scene, as a matter of routine when force is used and for the criminal case against Lemos.

Focha said the lawsuit will prompt an internal affairs investigation into the incident.

Holton arrested Lemos on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer during the late-night encounter outside her home. Lemos was jailed after she was first taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries, which included significant facial bruises and scrapes.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office received the body camera footage as part of the criminal case against Lemos. Prosecutors have asked for several continuances in the case. Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell on Thursday said that two weeks ago, they decided she would be charged with resisting or delaying arrest. The complaint has not yet been filed in court.

The Press Democrat on Thursday filed a request with the Sheriff’s Office for a copy of the body camera footage.

The incident took place June 13 outside the Lemos family’s Liberty Road home after they held a graduation party for her. Lemos, a two-time All Empire Athlete and former captain of her soccer team, currently attends Santa Rosa Junior College and plays midfield for the soccer team.

The deputy apparently pulled over that night to investigate a vehicle and trailer idling in the rural roadway outside her family’s home with its hazard lights blinking. Her sister, Karli Lemos, had left her phone at the house and was returning to her boyfriend, who was waiting in the vehicle, her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger said.

Holton asked the boyfriend to step out of the vehicle, and then at some point walked around and opened the passenger door with Karli Lemos seated inside. Lemos, another sister and their mother were outside the house at this point, drawn by the flashing lights on the patrol car.

Gabbi Lemos, during an interview Thursday, said she spoke up when Holton threw open the passenger door and grabbed her sister.

“It was scary seeing all his anger toward her in that moment. That’s when I decided to say something,” Lemos said.

Lemos rushed forward, according to the lawsuit, and “complained to the deputy that he had no right to pull her sister out of the vehicle and he needed to ask her first.” She also demanded he call a female deputy to the scene.

Holton then “violently shoved Gabbi” backward, and “yelled that no one else was coming,” according to the court filing. She said “You can’t touch me! We have rights!”

Gabbi’s mother told her to go into the house, and Holton followed as the teen began walking up the driveway, the papers said. Her family locked arms and tried to stand between the deputy and Lemos, but Holton “bolted around the family and without a word caught Gabbi from behind the neck in a chokehold, lifting her small body off the ground several feet before throwing her face-first onto the driveway.”

“Deputy Holton put his knee in the back of Gabbi’s head and began grinding her face into the gravel, despite her screams and her family’s pleas to stop,” the lawsuit said.

He put her in a patrol car. She was taken to a hospital and then booked into the Sonoma County Jail. No one else was arrested.

Lemos was released on bail several hours later and returned to the hospital because her face began to swell, she said. At that point, hospital staff asked if she’d like to file a report regarding the incident, and a deputy was dispatched to the hospital to document her injuries.

Lemos said she didn’t leave her house for a month after the incident.

“I felt like I couldn’t leave my house. I didn’t ever want to see him again or run into him,” Lemos said. “I was scared.”

Holton was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in a 2011 shooting that wounded a man he said was reaching for his waistband during an encounter on Todd Road. He shot the man twice, wounding him in the abdomen and buttocks.

Lemos’ case is the sixth pending civil rights lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office.

A woman accused a Sonoma County Jail guard of harassment and sexual assault after a February incident during which she claimed he asked her to show her breasts and exposed his genitals.

In another case against correction officers, a group of 20 inmates claim they were beaten by guards in May during what they’ve described as a five-and-a-half hour attack, which the Sheriff’s Office has adamantly denied.

A Forestville man is asking for $3 million to settle an excessive- force lawsuit against several deputies after he claimed they beat him during his 2013 booking on drunken-driving charges, shocking him 23 times with a stun gun.

The parents of 13-year-old Andy Lopez filed a wrongful death claim in federal court against the county and the deputy who mistook the boy’s airsoft BB gun for an assault rifle.

The family of a Larkfield man is also suing the Sheriff’s Office after the man committed suicide, claiming the SWAT team’s tactics during a 12-hour standoff at his home led him to take his life.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

PACH Statement on Sonoma County jail beatings

The Real Criminals in Sonoma County: A Statement from the Police Accountability Clinic & Helpline

By Elbert “Big Man” Howard

October 14th, 2015

It is Autumn of 2015 in Sonoma County. Amidst the vibrant colors of grape leaves and pumpkins is the reality of glaring news headlines. These greet us daily with tragic stories of the latest mass school (and other) shootings and the most recent killings and abuses of innocent people committed by law enforcement.

The public media has a field day analyzing, posturing and interviewing countless professors, medical and legal professionals, politicians and self-styled “experts”  who present all their theories and solutions for the tragic blood-letting .

The political leaders and powerbrokers proclaim that they have answers for the American people as they actually bury their heads deeper in the sand and increase their double-talk of what can be done to end the violence. They do nothing to change the laws to stop the gun violence and murders in this so-called land of laws and nothing to stop rampant abuse and murders on the part of law enforcement.

In this system, those who have been elevated and handed the power to create solutions are instead spending their time and the public’s money on plotting their elections or re-elections. They raise a ton of money for their personal priorities and the public and justice be damned.

It has now been 2 years since 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot down while walking to his friend’s house with a toy gun, killed by Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus. Gelhaus still patrols the streets of Santa Rosa, free and unprosecuted, as Andy’s family, friends, and supporters continue to seek and demand justice. Now, on the eve of the anniversary of Andy’s death, comes this most recent local news: a lawsuit, filed October 5th by Attorney Izaak Schwaiger and the Scott Law Firm in San Francisco, now exposes Sonoma County as the Jail from Hell.

The Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility in Santa Rosa has become a center for torture and brutality for the inmates, whose care and well-being have been entrusted to the jail employees – these being the Sheriff’s deputies. Not only are they not being cared for, but to the extreme contrary, the suit claims that the inmates there have been beaten and subjected to the most inhuman treatment the Sheriff and his deputies can inflict.

Much like the tactics supposedly used in just “Third World Countries”, the suit contains statements describing how deputies from the Special Emergency Response team, dressed in all- black uniforms and ski masks, entered inmates’ cells, handcuffed them and then savagely kicked and beat them for up to 5 and 1/2 hours. Reports from inmates document being stripped naked, punched, body-slammed to the ground and receiving blows to their heads, as well as other atrocities. The fear described by the inmates, as they lay waiting for their turns to come, listening to other prisoners scream and beg these “officers of the law” to stop hurting them, is unimaginable.

These reprehensible, lawless acts are human rights violations, as well as violations of the US Constitution. The County Sheriff is in charge of and is responsible for what happens in the county jail facilities, as well as for the actions of the deputies working there. In Sonoma County, Sheriff Steve Freitas is responsible, period! He and his deputies must be charged, prosecuted and put in prison for torture, human rights violations, and any other proven crimes. This will never occur as long as the investigators of the charges mentioned in the suit are the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Department itself!  Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has refused to investigate the charges herself and instead, has directed witnesses to the Sheriff’s Department! We demand that DA Ravitch bring in an outside investigating body as we believe it is ludicrous to even think that any investigation run by Sheriff Freitas, involving himself and his deputies, will ever be fair or done in the name of justice.

To the residents of Sonoma County in particular, and to people who believe in our Constitution and human rights, in general, we say this: It is way past time to rid the community of this law enforcement cancer. Freitas always gets re-elected because he runs unopposed and because he is supported with money coming from the huge wine industry and other big business interests, as well as law enforcement agencies. This has to change and change now! Change now in the name of Andy Lopez and in the names of the countless other victims of law enforcement! Sonoma County must have a new Sheriff, new District Attorney, new assistant DA and in general, a change in leadership.

We support and recognize the courage of the two plaintiffs in this suit, Marqus Martinez and Daniel Banks, as well as that of their families. We also acknowledge the extreme courage of the approximately twenty other still-incarcerated inmates, who wrote letters describing in detail much of the same abuse.

We support defense and civil rights attorney, Izaak Schwaiger and the co-counsel from the Scott Law Firm in their quest for justice for the two defendants named in the suit. We support asking the court to appoint an independent monitor of Sonoma County’s Main Adult Detention Facility jail – this is the third suit now before the U.S. District Court against the facility, all involving unconstitutional violations on the parts of corrections staff.

We remind the public that October 22nd is the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. In Sonoma County, there will be an event on that day celebrating the life of Andy Lopez. For further details, please go to the website:

This statement is made on behalf of PACH, the Police Accountability Clinic & Helpline (of Sonoma County).

Elbert “Big Man” Howard,

Santa Rosa, CA


Elbert “Big Man” Howard is a founding member of the Black Panther Party and a founding member of PACH. He is an author, lecturer and community activist in Sonoma County.



Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

Police withhold videos despite vows of transparency — Washington Post report

Police withhold videos
despite vows of transparency

But officers investigated in fatal shootings are routinely given access to body camera footage

Kimberly Kindy, Julie Tate

Published Oct. 8, 2015

Autumn Steele and her husband, Gabriel, were fighting again, so he called 911. A police officer sped to their home, pulled out his gun and then — frightened by the family dog — opened fire, killing Autumn with a bullet to her chest.

Since the Jan. 6 shooting, Steele’s family has battled police in Burlington, Iowa, to see 28 minutes of body camera video recorded by the two officers who responded that day. Police have declared the videos confidential, saying the shooting was tragic but reasonable, given that the dog “attacked.” State investigators have released a 12-second clip from the videos, but Steele’s relatives say it raises more questions than it answers.

“I deserve to know what happened to my daughter. The public deserves to know,” said Steele’s mother, Gail Colbert. “How can they keep this from us?”

In the turbulent year since Michael Brown’s death sparked protests in Ferguson, Mo., and beyond, politicians, law enforcement officials and community activists have seized on body cameras as a vital reform capable of restoring transparency and trust to police interactions with the public. But in Burlington and elsewhere around the country, police and other officials are routinely blocking the release of body camera videos while giving officers accused of wrongdoing special access to the footage.

Nationwide, police have shot and killed 760 people since January, according to a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent.

Just 21 of those videos — less than half — have been publicly released. And in several of those cases, the footage, as in Burlington, was severely cut or otherwise edited.

Meanwhile, virtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators, The Post found. Civil and human rights groups fear that access could help rogue officers tailor their stories to obscure misconduct and avoid prosecution.

“What point is there of even doing this if they are going to be treated this way? Why even spend the money on these cameras?” said Burlington Mayor Shane McCampbell, who has called on police to release video of the Steele shooting. He noted that police promised greater openness last year when they petitioned the city to buy body cameras.

If the videos “are going to be a secret, no one is being held accountable,” McCampbell said. “And that was the point.”

While individual police departments are adopting rules on the local level, police chiefs and unions are lobbying state officials to enshrine favorable policies into law. In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.

Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.

Police officials defend that effort, saying overly lax rules could end up helping criminals. Jury pools could be tainted by the general release of video evidence, making it difficult to win convictions. Eyewitnesses and informants may be reluctant to come forward if there’s a chance they were caught on a video that may be publicly released. Other people caught on camera may file lawsuits claiming that police violated their right to privacy.

“If you have a kid who drank too much on his 21st birthday and the police are called, do you really want video of that kid, sick and throwing up, to be on YouTube for the rest of his life?” said Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of the University of Central Florida’s police force.

Those arguments prevailed in Los Angeles this spring, when the city’s police commission adopted one of the most restrictive policies in the nation. Now, anyone who wants a body camera video from the Los Angeles Police Department will likely have to ask for it in court.

“A judge should be making this decision,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the local police union. “They can listen to all sides of the argument, weigh everyone’s interests and determine if there really is a public interest at stake.”

Civil rights organizations say policies that restrict access subvert the promise of body cameras.

“If police departments and law enforcement become the sole arbiters of what video the public gets to see, body cameras will go from being a transparency and accountability tool to a surveillance and propaganda tool,” said Chad Marlow, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Are we going to let that happen?”

Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

Federal lawsuit over county jail beatings

When:  October 6, 2015 – Tuesday @ 11am

Where: Law Office of Izaak Schwaiger,

527Mendocino Ave. Ste. B

Santa Rosa, CA 95401

 Federal Complaint Charges Sheriff
Freitas & Sonoma County With five-hour Hour Beating and Torture
of Dozens of Inmates in Sonoma County Jail.

Demand Made for Immediate Federal Intervention.

Press kit distributed at Press Conference will include endorsed copies of the filed
complaint, detailed, handwritten letters by inmates beaten
and tortured in the May 28th incident, and a
letter to the Sonoma County District Attorney seeking a
criminal investigation into the events.

Inmate letters will be read aloud by family members of the
victims. ******
****** A federal complaint filed today (10/6) by the Law Office of Izaak Schwaiger
on behalf of two Sonoma County men charges the County of
Sonoma, Sheriff Steve Freitas, and other named Deputies with
violations of the U.S. Constitution for heinous and
inexplicable beatings of more than twenty inmates on May 28,
2015 in the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility in
Santa Rosa, CA.

The allegations set forth in the complaint describe in minute specificity
the unconscionable events of May 28th, perpetrated by Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs and ratified by Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas.

“They grabbed Montes and threw him to the ground, handcuffed him,
then slammed his head into the floor, striking several rapid
and violent blows about his head, shoulders, neck, and back.
One deputy kicked Montes in the head. Another deployed a
taser against the inmate. Deputies then removed Montes from
the unit to administer “yard-counseling,” a practice
that is common in the jail and routinely involves the
application of physical violence to inmates. Deputies
dressed in all black wearing ski masks dragged Montes to the
shower, ordered him to strip naked, and told the inmate he
was their “bitch.” While naked and defenseless, deputies
threw Montes to the ground and began another round of savage
beatings…” “…deputies then began a third round of violent beatings, punching and
kicking Lopez and smashing his face into the concrete. As
the beatings continued, the lieutenant told Lopez that he was to blame for the violence. Lopez cried that they were treating him worse than an animal. The response from the
deputies was swift. Lopez felt an unknown deputy punch the back of his neck and other
deputies began punching, kicking, and body-slamming Lopez to
the point of involuntary defecation. They placed shackles around Lopez’s feet and attached them through his handcuffs to a chain secured around his waist. A mask was
put over his head and Deputy Medeiros began bashing his face
into the floor. The deputies dragged Lopez to the mental
health unit and stripped him naked. Covered in his own
feces, Lopez pleaded for toilet paper. The deputies ignored
his pleas, laughed at him, and locked him naked in isolation
covered in his own feces for two days…”

“…Martinez repeatedly called for medical assistance for over an hour
with no response. Due to his injuries, he was unable to pick
himself up off the floor where the deputies left him. For
two more hours he listened to screams of pain and torture
from the other inmates as jail staff proceeded down the
tier, removing each individual from his cell and subjecting
him to similar beatings. Lying on the floor unable to move,
Martinez heard his door open again. Hoping that it was the
doctor, the inmate looked up just in time to see the SERT
team returning to his cell wearing all black, with their
nametags removed and ski masks covering their faces. They
entered his cell and attacked him with overwhelming force,
kicking, punching, and kneeing him and knocking his head
into the floor.  They called him a “bitch” and “a
piece of shit.” They spat on him and threatened to
continue the beatings if he were to ever yell out again…”

“While the housing module filled with the screams of other inmates,
Daniel Banks, lay face down on his mattress with his hands
behind his back. For hours he had listened to the beatings
all around him. He hoped that by his show of submission he
would avoid being beaten as well, but the deputies merely
saved him for last. His cell door opened and four deputies
wearing black entered the small cell. All but one was
wearing a ski mask. The four deputies jumped on top of him
and began kneeing and punching him in the back and wrenching
his arms above his head, causing him excruciating pain. The
deputies yelled, “stop resisting!” and smashed a pair of
handcuffs around his wrists, causing the metal to cut into
him and leaving him with bruising, swelling, permanent nerve
damage and pain. Though face down, Banks turned to see his
tormenters, and observed that one was not wearing a ski
mask. He brought his face close to Banks’ and yelled,
“That’s right – get a good look at me, you punk bitch
– This is our house!” and spit in his face. The deputies
brought Banks out of his cell, down the stairs, and into the
yard where the beating continued…”

Santa Rosa criminal defense and civil rights attorney Izaak Schwaiger
received more than twenty letters from inmates following the
beatings. A former prosecutor and Marine Corps veteran of
the Iraq War, Schwaiger called the systematic assaults on
the prisoners “gut-wrenching” and “beyond the pale.”
Schwaiger’s early investigation reveals that jail staff
videotaped a large portion of the beatings, and that those
videos are in the possession of the Sonoma County Sheriff.
“This is like a horror movie,” said Schwaiger. “And we
have reason to believe this was not an isolated
incident.” The complaint seeks unspecified damages and injunctive



Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

Santa Rosa Press Democrat report on lawsuit on behalf of Esa Wroth (includes video)

Further on Esa Wroth’s case — the report he filed with PACH Jan. 6, 2013, updated Jan. 21 and Jan. 26.

Time and place of Incident: 6 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, inside detention center at Sonoma County jail.

Name: Esa Wroth, Age 26, male

Race/Ethnicity white

Nature of Interaction: Arrested, booked, held at county jail till bailed out.

Victim charged with: Two felonies — assaulting custodial officer and resisting a superior officer, plus DUI.

Description of incident:

Wroth said he left a bar at 12:30 a.m. and was a passenger in a car that was involved in an accident in Forestville. He may have blacked out because he doesn’t recall what happened till he phoned a friend at 2:30 a.m.

(On 1-26-13 he said he now believes he did NOT black out after the accident and that CHP arrived shortly after the accident but he confirms that the driver of the car had left the scene by then. This doesn’t alter his account of the rest of the incident.)

The driver was not around when CHP officers showed up and administered a sobriety test to Wroth. He refused a breathalyzer test and was arrested. He said he was  beaten unconscious by cops in an unprovoked attack in the county detention center, taken to Sutter E.R. for his injuries, then back to jail where his rights were read to him and the felony charges were added to the DUI charge. He was dumped in a cell and woke up around noon. (See notes added 1-26 for clarification and further details).

He says the police report claims he was the driver of the car and the air bag deployed although he says he was not the driver and the car is a 1988 Volvo that doesn’t have air bags.

After bailing out, he went to urgent care on Sebastopol Road, which referred him to Santa Rosa Memorial for CT scan, which he got.

He had a court hearing Monday (1/7) and was assigned a public defender named Slater, with the next hearing scheduled Feb. 8. He’s trying to line up a private attorney.

He does not have the names of the people who beat him but is trying to get names of arresting officers from the police report. He believes the first officer who assaulted him was a CHP officer in dark uniform who kneed him  in the face but his memory is hazy due to the beating.  The others involved were sheriff’s personnel at the county jail. (After seeing the sheriff’s report, Wroth said he realizes it was not CHP who beat him but only sheriff’s personnel at the jail.)

He has documented his injuries, which include abrasions of the head and body, possible torn meniscus (knee), bruised and swollen face and painful swollen hands from handcuff neuropathy.

He believes the beating was recorded on video at the jail detention area and wants to get a copy of the video.

On Jan. 26, after seeing the sheriff’s department report, Wroth added the following details:

Six sheriff’s department officers and one medical personnel are mentioned in the report, which includes narratives from several of them describing the incident. The following account is an approximate rendering of the sheriff’s department report, as related by Wroth.

(Don’t have rank or specific description of the officers’ affiliation but believe they are all part of County Jail correctional staff.)

Eduardo Espino Jr. – Wroth said, “He claims I tried to bite his shin. He reports kneeing me in the neck, face and shoulder two or three times. His knee to my face was the last thing I remember till I woke up in a cell six hours later.” Wroth has learned there is a lawsuit pending against Espino by Eric  James Baker, who alleges he was beaten at the jail by Espino in an earlier incident.

Brian R. Gallaway – His report says he used up all his taser cartridges on Wroth, reloaded with cartridge from another deputy (Scott Rivers) and tased him again. Wroth was unaware that he had been tased until he read the report.

Scott Rivers – Handed his taser cartridge to Gallaway.

Michael Skinner – Also used taser on Wroth.

  1. Flores – Lengthy narrative of administering pat search of Wroth, ordering him to face the wall and not to turn around . . . “Wroth refused by looking down at me while I searched him for contraband . . . Deputy Espino was assisting me . . . “ His account claims that Wroth continued resisting and grabbed a monitor “and attempted to tuck the monitor under his stomach  . . . [and I] threw him down.” Wroth remembers Flores as the officer who threw him down and initiated the beating in which other officers participated. He said he received punches to his torso and kneeing to his head and is currently undergoing physical therapy for his hands and shoulders (the shoulder injuries complicated by prior rotator cuff ailment).

Natasha Cole – Filmed the incident for sheriff’s department.

Bogart (no first name) – Medical person who observed the incident.

Espino, Gallaway, Rivers and Skinner all have narrative accounts in the sheriff’s dept. report.

As reported earlier, sheriff’s personnel called an  ambulance that took Wroth to E.R. at Sutter Hospital. He was then returned to a cell at the jail (M.A.D.F.).

Follow-up: Wroth plans to meet with public defender Jan. 30 and has court date Feb. 8. He said he has been offered a plea deal which calls for four months in jail and  unspecified “restitution.” He says he will reject the deal and go to trial. He said he has been refused access to the video of the incident on the grounds it is part of the evidence in the case.


Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

Rohnert Park officer pulls gun on cop watcher

Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

ACLU Know Your Rights

In response to the Sandra Bland case, AOL is running a know-your-rights message couched as advice on how to deal with cops to avoid getting killed. The advice is pretty much standard K-Y-R as circulated by the ACLU.

The AOL piece is attributed to “ACLU lawyer Jason Williamson” without further identification. A google search shows that Jason Williamson is a staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, with an expertise on unreasonable search and seizure, police practices and indigent defense reform.


Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

Deputies’ depositions fill in details in Andy Lopez shooting

Now that criminal investigators have cleared a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the focus shifts to the family’s civil lawsuit and the pursuit of millions of dollars in damages.

Recently released depositions of the deputy, Erick Gelhaus, and his partner, Michael Schemmel, provide more detail than ever about the moments before Lopez was killed in 2013 as he walked along a Santa Rosa street with an airsoft BB gun resembling an assault rifle.

Both sides maintain the accounts work in their favor. The county’s lawyers say the depositions support a conclusion that the deputies acted out of a reasonable fear they could be shot by a gun-toting man.

But the family’s attorney says the statements highlight important factual discrepancies. For example, Gelhaus said Lopez carried the gun in his left hand; Schemmel said it was in his right. Also, Schemmel said Lopez turned and kept walking when Schemmel “chirped” his siren. Gelhaus recalls him turning only once before Gelhaus shot him seven times.

Arnoldo Casillas, the Lopez family attorney, also said the depositions show an evolution in the deputies’ accounts. Just after the shooting, both described Lopez as a “man” but now appear to refer to him as a teenager, Casillas said.

He accused them of changing their story because jurors won’t buy the idea that someone with Lopez’s small stature could be mistaken for an adult.

“Their scripted and well-polished version of events is inconsistent with physical evidence as well as eyewitness accounts,” Casillas said. “They have to acknowledge he was a boy.”

Attorney Steven Mitchell, who represents the county and Gelhaus, denied that the deputies altered their accounts. They continued to maintain Lopez was an adult and estimated only after the shooting he was in his mid-to-late teens, Mitchell said.

Any factual differences were insignificant, he said.

“The similarities are much more important,” Mitchell said. “They both see what they absolutely perceive to be an AK-47. They see Lopez turn and the gun coming up. Those are the critical factors.”

The depositions, taken in April by Casillas, were released following a public records request by The Press Democrat. They could be introduced at trial, set for April 2016.

The Lopez family maintains in the federal lawsuit that Gelhaus acted recklessly in shooting Lopez and faults the Sheriff’s Office for “encouraging, accommodating or ratifying” the use of deadly force.

Schemmel is not named in the lawsuit.

It remains on track despite Wednesday’s announcement from the Sheriff’s Office that a federal review found no violations of Lopez’s civil rights. The Justice Department findings mirror local reviews concluding Gelhaus didn’t violate state law or Sheriff’s Office policies.

Casillas said the lack of criminal charges will have no bearing on the civil case, citing a lower standard of proof. Two years ago, Casillas won $24 million for the family of a Los Angeles boy who was shot and paralyzed by police while playing with an airsoft gun.

Casillas’ deposition of Schemmel on April 27 and Gelhaus the following day filled about 430 pages. Portions relating to confidential information were redacted.

Both deputies were asked about their careers and training. Schemmel, then 41, worked as a Concord police officer and Marin County sheriff’s deputy before being hired as a Sonoma County deputy weeks before the shooting.

Gelhaus, 50, said he had been a Sonoma County deputy for 23 years at the time of the shooting. The onetime range master and field training officer was described as having a reputation for being a “challenging” trainer. He said he instructed deputies and trainees on use-of-force issues within a month of the deposition.

Gelhaus was grilled about his participation in the Arizona-based Gunsite Academy and his interest in its late founder, Jeff Cooper, who has been criticized for comments about Los Angeles being a “Third World country formerly occupied by Americans.”

Gelhaus also was questioned about a bumper sticker he removed from his car that played on the popular “coexist” sticker. In the place of religious symbols, the sticker featured crosshairs and a skull and crossbones.

Gelhaus denied it suggested racial intolerance, calling it personal commentary against radical Islam. He served in the National Guard in Iraq in 2005.

Each deputy recounted the shooting, which happened Oct. 22, 2013, in southwest Santa Rosa as they were driving to a coffee break.

Schemmel said Gelhaus was the first to spot Lopez with his back to them on the sidewalk and called attention to his gun in a loud tone of voice.

“Do you see that?” Schemmel said Gelhaus asked him.

The younger deputy acknowledged Gelhaus and quickly pulled their car north across West Robles Avenue to a spot in the southbound lane of Moorland Avenue, about 65 feet behind Lopez.

Schemmel said he saw the side of Lopez’s face when he turned in response to the siren chirp but could not tell exactly how old he was before Lopez kept walking.

Gelhaus didn’t recall the chirp, although it was captured on a recording of his call to dispatchers.

Moments later, Gelhaus was out of the car with his gun drawn, yelling at Lopez to drop the gun, both said.

Gelhaus said he started firing a “couple of seconds” after he made the command and Lopez started to turn.

Asked if he ever wondered why Schemmel didn’t shoot, Gelhaus responded that he did “for a few seconds” before realizing his partner was focused on parking the car.

“I had fewer tasks to perform on my side of the car, so I was farther ahead of him,” Gelhaus said.

Both said they walked up to Lopez’s body. Gelhaus put handcuffs on him as he lay on the ground, Schemmel said.

Schemmel recalled being sequestered after the shooting in a hotel room, apart from Gelhaus. Both gave statements to Santa Rosa police officers who led an investigation under a protocol for officer-involved incidents.

About a year later, Schemmel said, the two deputies met for coffee and talked about what happened. Schemmel said he started the conversation by thanking Gelhaus for “saving my life.”

“The threat was serious and it was real, and I was scared,” Schemmel said.

Mitchell, the county attorney, downplayed a suggestion that Gelhaus criticized Schemmel for driving too close to Lopez and hitting the siren, forcing a confrontation. Mitchell said the 25-year law enforcement and Iraq War veteran was concerned they could be exposed to automatic gunfire, although Gelhaus declined to complain about Schemmel when asked by the Lopez family’s lawyer.

Mitchell said the candid statements, including an admission from Gelhaus that he cried several times and feared he would be prosecuted, support a conclusion the shooting was legally justified.

“They honestly, and with a lot of professionalism and composure, answered the questions under tough circumstances,” Mitchell said. “If need be, they’ll do it at trial.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

Source Press Democrat:

Posted in Erick Gelhaus, Michael Schemmel, PACH, Sonoma County Sheriffs | Leave a comment

Karen Janks shot by Windsor Deputies in Sebastopol

Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies shot a wrong-way driver who rammed three deputies in a Sebastopol parking lot after a high-speed chase that started Wednesday night when she was spotted driving in reverse on Highway 101 in Windsor, authorities said.

The driver, who police identified as Karen Janks, 46, was shot an unknown number of times and was undergoing treatment at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, sheriff’s Lt. Darin Dougherty said. Police officials Thursday morning described her injuries as life-threatening.

Two deputies struck by the car suffered minor injuries and a third was treated and released from a hospital. No further information on their conditions was available.

Santa Rosa Police Lt. Rainer Navarro said Janks was a transient from elsewhere in the Bay Area, and that it was unclear what brought her to Sonoma County.

“The driver was driving erratically upward of 100 mph on the highway,” Navarro said. “At one point she was driving backwards, which is dangerous in itself.”

The deputies who shot at the woman are assigned to the Windsor Police Department, which contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to provide police services. The deputies were identified by the Sheriff’s Office as Joel Pedersen, James Falberg, Lawrence Matelli, and Daniel Edwards. Pedersen is a 24-year veteran of the department and Falberg has been with the Sheriff’s Office for nine years. Both Matelli and Edwards were hired from other law enforcement agencies, Matelli three years ago and Edwards one-and-a-half years ago, spokeswoman Sgt. Cecile Focha said.

Thursday morning, yellow police tape cordoned off a large area where Old Gravenstein Highway meets Highway 116. The Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter buzzed above, taking aerial photographs of the scene. The shooting occurred in a parking lot of a business park behind the Antique Society.

The incident began at 11:46 p.m. Wednesday when a 911 caller reported seeing an Infiniti sedan driving in reverse on Highway 101 near Windsor, Navarro said. The caller said the 1996 car was traveling south in the northbound lanes and then made a U-turn and exited the highway in Windsor.

Five minutes later, a deputy saw an Infiniti run a red light on Old Redwood Highway near Starr Road in Windsor and tried to pull the driver over, Dougherty said. The motorist didn’t stop, speeding away on Highway 101.

The deputy pursued the car as it headed south, called for backup and alerted the Santa Rosa Police Department and CHP.

“At one point the deputies tried to use a spike strip (to stop her), but that was unsuccessful,” Navarro said.

With lights flashing and sirens sounding, deputies followed the Infiniti off the highway at Todd Road and continued on the rural route from southwest Santa Rosa to the Sebastopol area. The road narrows, with deep culverts on each side instead of shoulders, and includes straightaways and sharp 90-degree turns among cow pastures.

The driver turned right on Old Gravenstein Highway, turned into the business park parking lot of 2661 Gravenstein Highway and stopped, Navarro said. Deputies reported to dispatchers the “termination of pursuit,” meaning the vehicle pulled into the parking lot and stopped, at 12:06 a.m., Navarro said. The Sheriff’s Office requested an ambulance respond to the area at 12:07 a.m., emergency dispatchers said.

The deputies ordered the driver, who was the only one in the car, to surrender, officials said.

“She put the vehicle in reverse and struck the deputies, knocked them to the ground,” and also hit a patrol car, Navarro said.

Multiple deputies fired several rounds into the vehicle, hitting her an unspecified number of times.

“The vehicle stopped and the deputies pulled the driver out of the vehicle and tried to administer first aid and CPR,” Navarro said.

An ambulance crew took the woman to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital at 12:23 a.m., according to police and emergency dispatch reports.

Navarro said he did not yet know if any of the deputies who fired their weapons were also the ones struck by the driver.

He asked anyone with information about Janks, the car she was driving or the case to call 707-543-3590.

The Santa Rosa Police Department’s violent crimes team was brought in to investigate the shooting because of the countywide protocol that calls for another area law enforcement agency to investigate officer-involved shootings. Sonoma County District Attorney investigators were also at the scene, Navarro said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.


Posted in Daniel Edwards, James Falberg, Joel Pedersen, Lawrence Matelli, Sonoma County Sheriffs | Leave a comment

Videotape shows Deputy Charles Blount Pulling Celeste Moon to Ground by Her Neck

A videotaped confrontation between a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy and a 51-year-old woman suspected of jaywalking casts doubt on the deputy’s sworn statement about what happened and underscores the need for police cameras, the woman’s lawyer said Friday.

The 30-second video of the Jan. 23 incident near downtown Santa Rosa was taken shortly after Celeste Moon allegedly bolted across College Avenue at Humboldt Street and ran from the deputy.

It picks up after Moon is stopped a short distance away by Deputy Charles Blount, who is seen standing behind her. They talk for a moment before Blount puts an arm around her neck and throws her to the ground.

The video, taken by a neighbor, contradicts Blount’s court testimony earlier this week that he placed both of his hands on Moon’s shoulders and pushed her down, said Moon’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger. The 17-year law enforcement veteran did not know the video existed before testifying before Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, Schwaiger said.

The judge on Friday declined to dismiss the case or make a ruling on the deputy’s honesty. But she directed prosecutors to consider whether the gap between his testimony and the video affects the deputy’s credibility.

The case illustrates the importance of video in an age of heightened police scrutiny over the use of force, Schwaiger said. He will return to court next week to set a trial date.

“But for this video, Celeste Moon would be convicted of this crime,” said Schwaiger.

A sheriff’s spokeswoman said she has not seen the video and assumes that Blount testified to the best of his recollection. She said the Sheriff’s Office has not received a complaint about the incident from Moon.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said his office requested a transcript of the hearing and would review the deputy’s testimony.

“We are looking at it,” Staebell said Friday. “We’re aware of it. We’re aware of the court’s comments.”

A transcript of the hearing was not available Friday.

Moon, a single mother and Santa Rosa Junior College student, said she was walking home from culinary school classes around 4:45 p.m. when the confrontation occurred.

She was crossing College Avenue toward Cherry Street when she heard a voice behind her telling her she needed to wait for the light to change, Schwaiger said. The woman, who claims people yell at her frequently when she is walking, shouted back an obscenity and continued across, Schwaiger said.

“She doesn’t know he’s a cop,” the lawyer said.

She became scared and started running when she heard a car door open and the sound of someone getting out and coming after her, Schwaiger said.

Moon continued running until the deputy caught up with her and tried to put handcuffs on her, the lawyer said.

The video, apparently taken from the second floor of a nearby building, shows the two from the shoulders up, standing next to some trash cans.

Moon can be heard complaining to the deputy, “You’re going to pull my arms out! You’re going to hurt my arms!”

The deputy then slips an arm around her neck, putting her in a headlock, before tugging her backward. They fall out of view.

Moon’s loud screams are captured on audio. “Help!” she yells several times.

Five police vehicles were called in for backup and Moon was hauled off to jail, Schwaiger said. She was charged with jaywalking and resisting arrest.

He said the deputy’s overreaction was compounded by his mischaracterization of what happened. The judge played the video three times after Blount testified during an evidence hearing, Schwaiger said.

“It’s inexplicable,” Schwaiger said. “How do we get from jaywalking to this? Is there no other way to get control of a 51-year-old disabled woman other than grabbing her by the neck and body-slamming her to the ground?”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.


Posted in Abuse Reports, Charles Blount, Sonoma County Sheriffs | Leave a comment