Four join lawsuit claiming beatings at Sonoma County jail

PAUL PAYNE

Four more men have joined a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming they were beaten last year while inmates of the Sonoma County jail.

Their addition brings to six the number of men seeking damages from the county, Sheriff Steve Freitas and about a dozen correctional deputies allegedly involved in the May 28 incident.

Like the others, the former inmates of a jail high-security wing claim they were punched, kicked and thrown to the ground after complaining about the rough treatment of another inmate who refused to get out of bed.

Their lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said up to 20 inmates were beaten in a continuous round of assaults known as “yard counseling” that occurred over 5½ hours. He released two videos taken by guards that he said shows a portion of the violence.

Freitas has denied any wrongdoing, saying deputies were responding to a coordinated mass disturbance that threatened staff and inmate security.

U.S. District Court Judge James Donato will hear oral arguments Wednesday from county attorneys seeking to dismiss the case.

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

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Former Santa Rosa Jail inmates file lawsuit against sheriff over beating

http://abc7news.com/news/exclusive-former-santa-rosa-jail-inmates-file-lawsuit-against-sheriff-over-beating/1276469/

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Judge presses Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office on charging teen who sued

PAUL PAYNE

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Sonoma officials accused of retaliation in police brutality case

Gabrielle Lemos came away from an encounter with a sheriff’s deputy with swelling and bruising on her face.

Kimberly Veklerov

San Francisco Chronicle | March 21, 2016, 4:50PM

A Petaluma woman who suffered facial swelling, bruising and black eyes from an encounter with a sheriff’s deputy is accusing the Sonoma County district attorney’s office of retaliating against her for filing an excessive force claim.

The “unusual case and unusual proceeding,” as a judge called it last week, could put Sonoma County prosecutors on the witness stand as they answer for why they charged the woman, 19-year-old Gabrielle Lemos, with resisting arrest one day after she filed her lawsuit against the county — and weeks after they initially declined to file charges.

At issue is whether the misdemeanor charge against Lemos amounts to vindictive prosecution. While the criminal charge is pending, she cannot proceed with the civil suit she filed in federal court, according to her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, who called the district attorney’s move to charge “unethical” and “a desperation play.”

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch — who was not directly involved in the decision to charge Lemos — said the vindictive prosecution allegation, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court in response to the charge, was “baseless.”

The case dates back to June 13, the night of a party for Lemos celebrating her graduation from Petaluma High School, when she got between a sheriff’s deputy and one of her sisters, Karli Labruzzi.

The deputy, Marcus Holton, pulled up to the Lemos family home to investigate a possible domestic violence situation involving Labruzzi and her boyfriend, who were sitting outside the house in a truck. Holton questioned the boyfriend outside the vehicle and then, according to the federal complaint, dragged Labruzzi off the passenger’s seat.

Lemos ran up to Holton and said her sister’s rights were violated by being yanked out of the truck without cause, and demanded that a female officer be present, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that Holton then shoved Lemos backward and told her that no one else was coming. Family members tried to defuse the situation, and Lemos’ mother told her to get back inside the house.

But as Lemos was walking up the driveway toward the house, the lawsuit said, Holton grabbed her from behind, put her in a choke hold, then lifted her off the ground and tossed 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 complaint alleged. “Deputy Holton yelled ‘Stop resisting!’ as blood pooled on the ground under Gabbi’s face.”

Deputy’s rebuttal

In court filings, Holton’s attorneys denied the characterization of the altercation.

Lemos was handcuffed, transported to a hospital, then jailed on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.

Photos taken at the hospital and in the following days showed swelling and bruising to Lemos’ face.

Holton, who previously came under fire for shooting a man in 2011 because he suspected the man was reaching into his waistband for a weapon, remains on patrol as a deputy.

After three court appearances, the district attorney’s office declined to charge Lemos. In September, she was told the case had been rejected for filing.

But on Nov. 13, the day after Lemos filed her federal complaint — which named the county, the sheriff and Holton as defendants — the district attorney’s office filed one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest against her, putting the civil case on ice, Schwaiger said.

Ravitch said that members of her office made the decision to charge Lemos in early October and that there is a paper trail to back it up.

But Schwaiger alleged the criminal charge was a direct response to his client’s excessive-force complaint and not based on further investigation. The district attorney’s office admitted it received all the evidence in August.

“There’s no other possible reason,” Schwaiger said. “They had to reverse-engineer some justification.”

Judge’s action

Last week, as first reported by the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge heard arguments in the vindictive prosecution claim, which the district attorney’s office attempted to quash out of concern that prosecutors’ work-product privilege would be violated if they were forced to testify.

Judge Gary Medvigy on Wednesday decided to allow prosecutors to testify under subpoena for why they charged Lemos when they did, saying the timing of their actions can’t be ignored.

“It’s a question of fact as to when the decision was made by the D.A.’s office, and why it was made, because that’s the crux of the defense motion, that it was made for vindictive purpose,” Medvigy said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “So I’m going to hear the evidence. I’m going to pierce the privilege.”

The district attorney’s office is now appealing Medvigy’s decision to a three-judge Sonoma County panel.

The proceedings have the potential to set a legal precedent in the county for the degree to which prosecutors can retain their work-product privilege, which shields materials attorneys use to prepare for litigation.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 13.

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kveklerov@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kveklerov

Read the original article here.

 

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Legal action against battered Petaluma teen called retaliatory

Gabbi Lemos is shown in family photos at her graduation from Petaluma High School in June and two days after her arrest a few days later.

Decision to charge Gabbi Lemos with resisting arrest called retaliatory

PAUL PAYNE

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | March 16, 2016, 5:03PM

A Petaluma woman who was charged with resisting arrest one day after she filed a police brutality lawsuit is accusing the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office of vindictive prosecution.

Lawyers for Gabbi Lemos, 18, on Wednesday accused prosecutors of trying to derail her federal claim that Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Marcus Holton threw her on a driveway and smashed her face into the ground during her June arrest outside her family home.

She alleges prosecutors reviewed all the evidence submitted over a monthlong period, including officer videos, and rejected the case for filing on Sept. 11. But the decision was reversed Nov. 13 when a different prosecutor was assigned and announced Lemos would be charged with the misdemeanor offense.

The switch happened a day after Lemos filed her brutality suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch called the timing coincidental, saying her office’s decision to charge Lemos was based on evidence.

Lemos’ lawyers said a conviction would prevent the 2015 Petaluma High School graduate and former soccer team captain from claiming monetary damages.

“If they get a conviction, the civil suit goes away,” said her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger. “And then all of a sudden, the county doesn’t have to answer for what Deputy Holton did to her.”

A finding that prosecutors acted vindictively could lead to a dismissal of the charge, clearing the way for the suit to go forward, he said.

On Wednesday, Judge Gary Medvigy ruled Lemos’ attorneys could question Juliette Hyde and Jenica Leonard, the deputy prosecutors who handled the case, saying, “You can’t just ignore the timing.”

However, that effort was blocked by a district attorney manager, who argued information about the decision-making process was privileged and should not be divulged under work-product rules. The judge granted the request for a stay from Chief Deputy District Attorney Troye Shaffer so his ruling could be reviewed by an appeals panel.

Lemos’ attorneys accused prosecutors of a cover-up.

“They are doing everything in their power to avoid telling the public why they are pursuing this case,” said Schwaiger, a former Sonoma County prosecutor.

Ravitch denied her office was attempting to hide anything.

She said the prosecutor and her management team reviewed the allegations against Lemos more than a month before the civil suit was filed and decided in October to charge her with resisting arrest.

But Ravitch said the case wasn’t filed until after the civil suit, in part because the prosecutor was waiting to talk to the deputy sheriff, Holton. She reached him Nov. 12 and the complaint was filed electronically the next day, she said.

“It was simply a coincidence,” Ravitch said Wednesday.

She would not discuss what evidence caused the change after the case had been previously rejected. She said her chiefs discussed material such as body camera recordings in round-table discussions and agreed to charge Lemos.

Ravitch said she did not know what the recordings show.

“I relied on the wisdom of my managers,” Ravitch said.

Meanwhile, Lemos’ attorney said her civil case is on hold pending the resolution of any criminal charges.

Lemos alleges she was assaulted by Holton following a graduation party at the family’s Liberty Road home on June 13.

The deputy apparently pulled over to talk to occupants of an idling vehicle that included Lemos’ sister and her boyfriend.

Lemos said she rushed forward and complained when Holton threw open the door and grabbed her sister. She alleges Holton shoved her and came after her when she retreated, putting her in a neck hold and throwing her face-first onto the driveway.

She accuses the deputy of putting a knee into her back and grinding her face into the gravel as she and family members screamed at him to stop.

Lemos was treated at a hospital and booked into the jail on suspicion of resisting an officer.

She suffered facial bruising and a black eye.

Now a Santa Rosa Junior College student, Lemos appeared in court three times last year before learning, initially, she would not be charged.

Prosecutors agreed they had received all the evidence about a month earlier on Aug. 14.

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

Read the original story here.

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Sonoma County picks independent watchdog for Sheriff’s Office

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | March 2, 2016, 3:53PM

Sonoma County supervisors Wednesday announced that a Bay Area attorney has been chosen to launch a new county department charged with providing the first-ever independent civilian eye on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Jerry Threet, who has been a deputy city attorney in San Francisco for 11 years, will run the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, a new county department aimed at building community confidence in law enforcement and transparency around police practices.

The creation of the office is a direct response — more than two years in the making — to the 2013 death of Andy Lopez, who was shot by a deputy who mistook the boy’s airsoft BB gun to be an assault rifle. The shooting sparked passionate public outcry, protests and a county-led effort to create a tangible response to the troubled police-community relations that were revealed, particularly among Latino, immigrant and working class residents of southwest Santa Rosa.Supervisor Efren Carrillo said that while the protests have subsided in the two years that have passed, the creation of the office “is just as important today as it’s ever been.“As we look forward, for the community as a whole, this will be one of the most important decisions this board has made in the last decade.”Threet, 55, who moved to Sebastopol last year, was selected from 40 candidates across the country. The board chose Threet from three top candidates selected by a series of interview panels comprised of county staff, law enforcement and community members.

Carrillo said Threet stood out among the candidates because of the nature of his experience working in San Francisco, a diverse city with passionate political activism. His work demonstrated a commitment to government transparency and serving disadvantaged communities, the supervisor said.

“I believe that Jerry has the experience and the background and the sensitivity around race relations,” to do the job, Carrillo said.

The creation of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach was the most ambitious recommendation made by the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, a group formed by county supervisors to create an action plan that would address police-community relations after Lopez’ death. The county approved the idea for the office last year.

Caroline Bañuelos, chair of the task force, said that she was on an interview panel and that Threet was one of her top choices.

“He seemed really interested in the reasons why we were doing this and wanting to be part of that process,” Bañuelos said. “That’s the thing that impressed me, beyond his qualifications.”

Task force member and former supervisor Eric Koenigshofer, who was on the committee that developed the recommendation and interview panel, said that selecting a director was “a major moment for our community.”

Threet’s role as a deputy city attorney for San Francisco put him in the position of protecting consumers, residents and employees, according to the county’s official summary of his experience. His work included enforcing health and safety codes and public records and public meeting laws, as well as litigating cases aimed at protecting people against illegal business practices.

“My entire professional career has been focused on ensuring that government provides fairness and justice for ordinary people and is as transparent as possible. I will continue to work toward those same goals in this new position,” Threet said in a written statement.

Threet’s appointment is expected to be made official March 15 when the board of supervisors votes on the decision.

Until then, Threet is finishing out his tenure with the city of San Francisco, and was unavailable for comment Wednesday because of a public city meeting expected to stretch into the evening.

Sheriff Steve Freitas also was not available for comment Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

Threet will head up an office with a budget of nearly $827,000 through the end of June 2017. The board approved annual pay for the director of $254,402, including salary and benefits. One of Threet’s first jobs will be hiring an administrative aide from a pool of candidates already recruited by the county.

The job description outlined by the task force and reaffirmed by county supervisors involves developing a strong working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office as well as a diverse array of community members. The Sheriff’s Office is under no legal obligation to share its internal files, such as citizen complaint investigations, but Freitas has indicated he is willing to do so with a lawyer bound by confidentiality laws.

County supervisors have said the office should have a proactive public presence and move quickly to hire staff, develop a work plan and create a civilian advisory board and youth council.

Marni Wroth, a community activist who was a regular, outspoken presence at the task force meetings as a member of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, reacted to the news of Threet’s expected appointment with caution.

Wroth’s 28-year-old son was just last month awarded $1.25 million in a settlement with Sonoma County, in possibly the largest police brutality payout ever from a county law enforcement agency to a person who didn’t die of his injuries.

In January 2013, correctional deputies shot Essa Wroth 23 times with a Taser while he was being booked into the jail on drunken-driving charges. The struggle was captured in a 29-minute videotape.

“The officers that beat my son, they didn’t lose their jobs. That’s a problem, that’s truly a problem,” Wroth said. “And I’m hoping (Threet) won’t be business as usual, that he’ll be able to take complaints, scrutinize them, and if there are critical incidents, respond to them.”

Before working for the San Francisco city attorney’s office, Threet served as a litigation attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust division and he worked on class-action racial discrimination litigation as a contract attorney with the Northern California U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Threet managed the campaign of Jake McGoldrick, who was elected San Francisco County supervisor in 2001 and served until 2009. Threet served as McGoldrick’s chief of staff for his first four years in office.

He has volunteered as president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, board president of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and as a member of the Berkeley Public Works Commission and San Francisco Green County Council.

Threet received a joint degree in Law and Public Policy from the University of Texas in 1988.

He is married to Seth Ubogy, and the couple recently moved to Sebastopol with their two daughters, ages 5 and 7.

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Palo Alto attorney Bob Aaronson hired as Santa Rosa police auditor

JULIE JOHNSON

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | February 29, 2016, 5:43PM

Santa Rosa has hired a police auditor to review the police department’s internal investigations into complaints, officer discipline and use-of-force incidents.

Bob Aaronson, a Palo Alto attorney who also serves as the police auditor in Davis and Santa Cruz, will work on a part-time, on-call basis and already has begun reviewing complaints and personnel investigations since the city quietly retained his services in January.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder said that he originally hired Aaronson in 2014 to produce a one-time review of the way his department investigates citizen complaints and other internal investigation practices. Schreeder said Aaronson’s report led to several changes, such as collecting more data on how officers use force. He and city manager Sean McGlynn agreed to hire Aaronson on an ongoing basis.

“What the community will learn is we’re not afraid of being evaluated,” Schreeder said.

Aaronson said he has an office within the Police Department and access to internal records. Aaronson will be in Santa Rosa six days a month for the first three months, and then he will be in the city three days each month going forward. He will be paid a flat fee of $6,000 per month, not to exceed $60,000 per year, and is expected to be reachable at all times, according to a contract signed Dec. 30.

The move comes as Sonoma County is poised to announce a director to lead the newly created Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach to provide civilian oversight of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Human Resources Director Christina Cramer said that the top candidate has accepted the position and the county will announce the appointment once he’s given notice at his current job.

The public will never see Aaronson’s first project for the city. Aaronson spent about three months reviewing 60 personnel investigations and he produced a 20-page report to the City Attorney’s office, which allowed its findings to remain confidential.

Schreeder said that was by design, so that he could gain insight into departmental operations and procedures involving personnel matters protected by state law.

City Council member Julie Combs said that she believes hiring a police auditor is a “wonderful first step,” but she expects that some of the auditor’s work will be made public.

“Transparency is a big issue for me,” Combs said. “I understand it might be nice to start out more quietly, but at some point, the council needs to have a report on the findings.”

The changes prompted by his review, some still underway, include assigning a full-time sergeant to conduct internal investigations. Previously, the investigations fell to direct supervisors of the individual named in the complaint.
Schreeder said the department also has added steps to the way use-of-force incidents are investigated. The officer’s supervising sergeant interviews the officer and reads the report. Now, the supervisor also interviews the person upon whom force was used as well as witnesses.

Aaronson will have a hand in shaping a wide variety of other practices, such as how the department uses body camera footage and increasing information provided to people who file complaints against officers.

“One of the things I’m working on with Bob is what can we tell people, legally, so people have a feeling of closure and confidence that it was looked into thoroughly,” Schreeder said.

Aaronson has served as the police auditor in Santa Cruz and Davis for 13 and 10 years, respectively.

Aaronson said he began developing an expertise in police internal affairs procedures in the 1980s while a deputy city attorney in San Francisco. He’s conducted internal affairs audits and provided other analysis for agencies across California, including those in Contra Costa County, Anaheim, Fresno and Modesto.

He said he aims to eventually spend time with each officer in the department, mostly in the patrol car out in the field, and earn trust that his recommendations will improve the department.

“One of the advantages I bring is that I’ve seen a lot,” Aaronson said.

Aaronson said that in his experience, a police department of about 100 sworn officers typically receives 25 complaints per year. He estimates that 80 percent of complaints are generated by about 20 percent of a department’s workforce. Santa Rosa received 86 citizen complaints in 2014. Of those, 55 were determined to be unfounded, eight were sustained and the remainder inconclusive or otherwise resolved.

“For every complaint, I believe there are 10 other people who are reluctant to come forward,” Aaronson said. “I want more people to come forward so we have an opportunity to know what’s going on.”

Asked what Santa Rosa city residents are likely to learn about their Police Department from his work, Aaronson said that he is less committed to being transparent than he is to making the department function better from within.

“If you and I are best friends and I saw from across the room that your fly is open, I can shout this or I can walk over and whisper in your ear,” Aaronson said. “I don’t want to win the battle but lose the war.”

He said that Santa Rosa would ideally establish something like a police commission to which he would report his findings. In Santa Cruz, Aaronson gives in-depth reports to a committee of the City Council in a closed session.

Santa Rosa has joined 23 other law enforcement jurisdictions in California that have some form of civilian oversight. Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach will be the 24th. County supervisors approved a budget of about $800,000 for the first 18 months of the program.

Aaronson can be reached at 543-4179 or aaronson@sonic.net.

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

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Lawmaker proposes giving public access to police shooting and misconduct cases

Patrick McGreevy

Los Angeles Times

Investigative files involving police shootings and sustained misconduct by officers would be made public under legislation proposed Friday to lift the veil of secrecy and restore public confidence in law enforcement.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) proposed the change to bring California in line with 10 other states, including Texas and Florida, that provide public access to investigative details, findings and disciplinary actions when officers are found to have acted improperly.

“The public has a right to know when officers apply deadly force and when serious cases of misconduct have been confirmed,” Leno said. “Failing to disclose such important information can fuel mistrust within our communities and threaten public safety.”

He cited several police shootings throughout the country that have been caught on videotape and raised public outrage.

The bill seeks to increase access to records that has been restricted by state law and further limited by court decisions.

Police in six Southern California counties have shot more than 2,000 suspects since 2004. Only one officer was prosecuted — he was acquitted

Leno’s bill would require public access to records from all investigations into uses of force, including shootings, that result in deaths or serious injury. The records would be open even if the officer eventually was found to have complied with a department’s policy.

The LAPD releases summaries of the findings in such cases, but Leno said the public has a right to see the entire report, including information on an officer’s previous uses-of-force and disciplinary history.

Other departments do not even provide a summary of findings in officer shootings, according to Peter Bibring, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Investigative records and findings also would be made public, under the legislation, in cases where officers are found by their department to have engaged in misconduct that violates the legal rights of the public, including sexual assault, lesser uses of force, planting evidence, racial profiling and unlawful arrests.

In addition, the bill would require records to be released when departments find an officer engaged in job-related dishonesty.

The legislation also would allow police and sheriff’s departments to open hearings to the public when officers appeal disciplinary action and when citizen complaints are heard.

Also, citizens who file complaints against the police would be given information including whether the complaint was sustained, the factual findings and any discipline imposed or corrective actions taken.

George Gascon, the district attorney for San Francisco County, said the failure to make police disciplinary records public “contributes to the feeling that police departments are hiding something, even when they are not.”

The measure faces an uphill battle, with opposition expected from powerful police unions.

A similar bill in 2007 died in a legislative committee after dozens of peace officers testified to lawmakers that permitting public access to police disciplinary files would endanger lives. The Times later reported that law enforcement advocacy groups were unable to identify a single case in which an officer had been harmed because of the release of such information.

“Those states (that open records) have not seen an increase in threats to officers,” Leno said at a San Francisco press conference. “With greater public access, public trust follows.”

The California Peace Officers Assn. plans to review the proposed bill before taking a formal position, but its president, Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, raised privacy concerns Friday about releasing information on citizen complaints.

“To require disclosure in every case would be unfair in a process by which an agency is required to take and investigate complaints and its officers have little or no control over any complaint that may be made against him or her, or the resultant investigation,” Jones said.

Leno cited a 2014 poll that found 30% of Americans believe that law enforcement nationwide is doing a good or excellent job of holding officers accountable for misconduct. Only 10% of African Americans felt that way, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center.

A separate survey last year found that nearly 80% of Californians believe the public should have access to the findings and conclusions of sustained police misconduct, Leno noted during a news conference at the Hiram W. Johnson State Building.

The measure is supported by the California State Conference of the NAACP, the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. and the Conference of California Bar Assns.

LA Times, Patrick McGreevy, 2/19/16, report from Sacramento

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Judge Rules on County’s Summary Judgment Motion in Lopez Case

Judge Phyllis Hamilton has ruled on the motion for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit of the family of Andy Lopez against the County of Sonoma and Deputy Erick Gelhaus.

Judge Hamilton ruled that the lawsuit against the County is dismissed but that the Lopez family can proceed against deputy Gelhaus.

She wrote in her decision, “Defendants have not established that Andy actually threatened the officers with the rifle that he was holding.”

Therefore the lawsuit will proceed to trial against deputy Gelhaus.

You can read Judge Hamilton’s decision at the following link:

Order on Motion for Summary Judgment

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County pays $1.25 million to man tasered 23 times by deputies

Taser incident at Sonoma County jail results in $1.25 million settlement

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle an excessive force lawsuit from a Forestville man who was shot 23 times with a Taser while being booked into the jail on drunken-driving charges.

The settlement reached with Esa Wroth, 29, may be the largest police brutality payout ever from a county law enforcement agency to a person who did not die of his injuries, said Wroth’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger.

In his struggle with correctional deputies, Wroth suffered torn shoulder blade muscles, permanent nerve damage to his wrists and head trauma from direct Taser applications, Schwaiger said. He also has lasting psychological issues from his encounter, which was captured on a 29-minute videotape.

“You can’t get through anything that terrifying and not have scars,” Schwaiger said. “He’s fortunate not to have been killed.”

Wroth said he was happy with the settlement. He called it an important step toward “accountability for the violence that happens in this county.”

“A year ago I was looking at serious jail time,” Wroth said. “Now, for the exact same case, they are giving me over a million dollars.”

Supervisors finalized the settlement Tuesday by a unanimous vote, said Josh Myers, deputy county counsel. County officials admitted no liability and Wroth agreed to drop all claims against the Sheriff’s Office and individual deputies named in his suit, he said.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cecile Focha said it was an isolated incident. She would not comment on whether any deputies received disciplinary action.

However, she said it brought about procedural changes in the jail. Jail supervisors received training on tactical decision-making and deputies have been given additional equipment for restraining suspects during booking, she said.

“Ultimately what we really want with every law enforcement encounter is to minimize risk of injury,” Focha said.

The county has paid out millions of dollars over the last two decades to settle legal claims involving law enforcement actions. The largest was $1.75 million given to the family of 16-year-old Jeremiah Chass, who was shot and killed by deputies in 2007.

A jury awarded $100,000 to Kenneth Oberfelder, 35, who was shot and wounded by a sheriff’s deputy in 1996. A judge later ordered him to be paid $1.3 million in attorney fees.

Wroth’s case began when he was arrested Jan. 2, 2013, on drunken-driving charges. Toxicology testing showed he had a 0.21 percent blood-alcohol level, more than two times the legal limit, when he was pulled over on River Road after leaving the Forestville Club.

While being booked into the jail, he became uncooperative and resisted efforts to subdue him, jail officials said. Correctional deputies hit him to gain compliance and shocked him with Tasers during a struggle, they said.

Wroth admitted Tuesday he was “very, very drunk” but maintained he put up no resistance. He accused deputies of sadistic behavior.

“I know I drank a lot but nobody deserves to be tortured,” said Wroth, who graduated from Sonoma State University and works as a solar energy consultant.

An internal investigation concluded the deputies’ actions were appropriate.

A portion of the confrontation was captured on a video recording by jail officials, which Wroth’s lawyer posted on YouTube. Altercations between suspects and jail officials are routinely recorded for evidence purposes, jail officials said.
On the eve of trial, prosecutors dismissed resisting and assault charges against Wroth in exchange for his plea to an alcohol-related reckless driving offense.

Wroth sued in federal court, alleging a violation of his civil rights. He originally sought $3 million for ongoing medical bills. Wroth had two dislocated shoulders and had Taser barbs surgically removed from his body, Schwaiger said.

Schwaiger, who represents clients in two other excessive force lawsuits, called the settlement a “necessary evolution in cleaning up problems within the Sheriff’s Office.”

Attorney: Force used on Forestville DUI suspect was ‘torture’
“I think the county will be better off for this,” Schwaiger said. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned. But I don’t think the culture will make a serious shift until people start getting fired.”

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

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