Judge Denies Sonoma County’s Motion to Dismiss Police Brutality Case Brought by Hagens Berman
SONOMA, Calif. – A federal civil-rights lawsuit brought against the County of Sonoma, Town of Windsor, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, and individual police officers following what attorneys described as “excessive and deadly force” against a Black man has been permitted to continue on nearly every count, according to Hagens Berman.
On Friday, Dec. 11, Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declined to dismiss all but the one request for injunctive relief. As a result of Judge Breyer’s ruling, defendants are still potentially liable for such charges as battery, negligence and false arrest and imprisonment, as well as constitutional and civil-rights violations, for their treatment of plaintiff La’Marcus McDonald, who was beaten and arrested by police during a welfare check.
“Judge Breyer’s order brings La’Marcus McDonald one step closer to justice after his appalling treatment at the hands of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office,” said Reed Kathrein, a Hagens Berman partner and a lead attorney in the lawsuit. “The defendants, whose job is to protect and serve their community, instead chose to terrorize and traumatize an innocent man.”
LA’MARCUS MCDONALD’S ENCOUNTER WITH POLICE
On the evening of July 9, 2019, Sonoma County Sheriff Deputies contracted by the Windsor Police Department conducted a welfare check on McDonald, who was sleeping alone in a legally parked car with the ignition turned off, the amended complaint states. When McDonald woke up, one of the officers asked him if he’d consumed any alcohol or drugs. McDonald stated that he’d been drinking earlier and complied with the officer’s order to step out of his vehicle and turn around.
McDonald claims that the officer proceeded to grab his right arm and attempt to handcuff him without warning. The next thing McDonald remembers is “waking up bloodied, face first on the ground with pain in his head and mouth,” the amended complaint states, the result of the officer slamming him headfirst into the pavement and knocking out three teeth, among other injuries.
McDonald was arrested for resisting arrest, but the District Attorney refused to press charges. In his order and based on the facts pled in the complaint, Judge Breyer states that police “lacked probable cause to arrest McDonald for resisting arrest” and “lacked probable cause to search McDonald.” Judge Breyer’s order also states that the arresting officer’s “alleged conduct constituted excessive force in violation of McDonald’s Fourth Amendment rights.”
DEPUTIES TOLD TO ACT FIRST, THEN JUSTIFY ACTIONS
Furthermore, Judge Breyer declined to dismiss claims that the defendants were negligent in their training and supervision of the officers involved in the incident. According to the amended complaint, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office trains officers to use a “survivor’s mindset” when approaching potential suspects, advising them to act first and then justify their actions. “Stay alive! Then prove your conduct was proper,” the lawsuit quotes from an official training policy. McDonald’s attorneys also cited several examples of excessive force involving the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in recent years, noting that public officials disregarded community pleas for reform.
The lawsuit accuses the County of Sonoma, the Town of Windsor, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, and individual police officers of violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as California’s Constitution and common law, in their use of “excessive and deadly force” against McDonald and the negligent policies surrounding the incident.
The lawsuit seeks monetary relief for McDonald, whose case, Kathrein said, “is not an isolated incident.”
McDonald has 30 days to amend the claims for injunctive relief. “For years, Sonoma County officers and public officials have nurtured an environment in which police brutality is allowed to flourish,” Kathrein said. “It is high time that this systemic, toxic culture underwent a dramatic change, and it’s out of sincere hope that this lawsuit will help accomplish that.
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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a class-action and complex-litigation law firm with nine offices nationwide. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.