Sonoma County Defends Policy of Arrest and Excessive Use of Deadly Force, Blaming Victim’s Response Time
SONOMA, Calif. – In response to a filed federal civil rights lawsuit by Hagens Berman regarding alleged police brutality, the county of Sonoma, town of Windsor, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essex, and individual officers filed a motion to dismiss, demanding the lawsuit be thrown out in its entirety, blaming the victim’s slow response to commands.
The action comes after the excessive use of deadly force during a welfare check, false arrest and imprisonment of La’Marcus McDonald, a 34-year-old African American male. The lawsuit, filed June 24, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses defendants of violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as California’s constitution and common law.
According to the complaint, on July 9, 2019, the Windsor Police Department responded to a welfare check of Mr. McDonald, who was sleeping in a legally parked vehicle. Police officers detained Mr. McDonald and used, “excessive and deadly force by slamming Plaintiff head first into the ground while holding his right arm, breaking off Plaintiff’s two front teeth, knocking out a third, causing bleeding from the mouth, facial and arm lacerations, and rendering him unconscious,” the complaint reads.
In their motion to dismiss filed in federal court on Aug. 18, 2020, the suit’s defendants seek to justify their use of deadly force in throwing Mr. McDonald head first into the pavement, because Mr. McDonald, who was woken from his sleep in the car, “was disoriented and did not comprehend his contact with [the officer], and that he slowly responded to the officer’s commands to exit the vehicle.”
“The county of Sonoma’s position that an arrest for obstruction of a police officer, and use of deadly force, because Mr. McDonald ‘was slow,’ is appalling and shocks every sense of human rights. We look forward to testing, before a jury, the county’s claim that this policy and training would not ‘offend the community’s sense of fair play and decency,’” said Reed Kathrein, a partner at Hagens Berman representing Mr. McDonald.
If you have direct and actual knowledge of Sonoma County Sheriff’s unwritten or non-public policies, procedures or training regarding the use of force and/or tolerance or cover-up, please reach out to us.
The lawsuit states that after the incident, officers unlawfully arrested Mr. McDonald for allegedly obstructing the police officer and filed a false police report to cover up the injuries they caused Mr. McDonald. Attorneys say police then falsely imprisoned him, with the cooperation of supervisors.
After reviewing body camera footage, the Sonoma County District Attorney refused to prosecute Mr. McDonald. Sonoma County and the sheriff’s office nevertheless refuses to release body camera footage to Mr. McDonald, despite a new California statute (Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(f)(4)), requiring the release of such video within 45 days where use of force causes death or great bodily harm. According to attorneys, the Sonoma Sheriff takes the position that a concussion and the loss of three front teeth do not constitute great bodily harm, which in turn allows them to not report the incident to the California Department of Justice, as required by California law (Cal. Gov. Code § 12525.2(d)) and conceal the sheriff’s office wrongdoing.
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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a national class-action and complex litigation law firm with nine offices across the country, fighting for the rights of consumers, whistleblowers, employees, investors and others. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.