CALIFORNIA CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY – JUDGE SAYS: ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF DEPUTIES MAY HAVE USED EXCESSIVE FORCE

Perhaps the question is not if the county will settle this lawsuit, but when, and for how much…?

It’s not going well when a federal judge writes, “a reasonable jury could conclude that the defendant officers used excessive force against Ms. White …. Ms. White was not under suspicion of having committed any crime. Nor were the officers present to investigate Ms. White. Indeed, the officers were standing on Ms. White’s property without having obtained a warrant ….”

OUCH

We told you recently about the case involving an Old English sheep dog, a woman named Toy (who suffered a nasty black eye), and an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy who was arrested for DUI after two crashes within a half-hour.

Mission Viejo paid $24,000 to make this suit go away – but it is still grinding against former Deputy Allan James Waters’ bosses, the County of Orange and the Sheriff’s Department, racking up legal bills.

(Waters, by the way, is no longer a deputy. And shortly after he turned in his uniform, he was arrested for DUI and on suspicion of being a drug dealer who traded fake drugs and cash in exchange for real prescription drugs. The District Attorney’s Office said he tried to pull a fast one by using a white powder instead of cocaine. Oops.)

The county has settled one other case involving Deputy Waters for $32,000.

DOG GONE

On July 7, 2007, Toy Whitewas home in Mission Viejo with her husband Steve and their three Old English sheep dogs. A woman entered the property without permission, the suit says – and one of the dogs bit her.

That evening, there was a knock at the Whites’ door. They opened it, and there stood four OC sheriff’s deputies and a Mission Viejo animal control officer. They entered the house without the Whites’ consent – and without a warrant – demanding that the dog be surrendered for a 10-day quarantine.

Mission Viejo law allows for in-home quarantine when a bite happens during trespassing on private property. The Whites said they wanted to do that instead.

And here, according to the suit filed in federal court, is where things got dicey. The deputies became threatening and said, “Just give up the dog,” the suit says.

Toy White asked the officers to leave her house; they would continue the discussion outside. As she placed her hand on the door handle, “she was violently grabbed and thrown face first onto the tile floor, without warning or provocation, by (deputies) Macias and Waters,” the suit says. She was then cuffed tightly, arrested, and hauled off to jail.

The dog, meanwhile, was taken into custody as well. The dog was returned the following day, when the city realized its error; but White was arrested for battery on an officer and resisting arrest. The District Attorney’s office did not proceed, however, determining that the officers had no authority to enter the house, and no legal right to remove the dog, the suit says.

Deputies named, along with Waters, are J. Macias, S. Crivelli and T. Jansen, along with animal control officer H. Holmes. They maintain that White was threatening, advanced toward the deputies and resisted arrest.

SAYS THE JUDGE

The suit is in federal court, before Judge David O. Carter. He made the comments we’re quoting in an order granting in part, and denying in part, the county’s motion for summary judgment (a determination made by the court without a full trial).

Writes Carter: “…it remains a disputed issue of material fact as to whether Ms. White made any contact with the police officers. Even if Ms. White made such contact, the officers would only be entitled to use the force necessary in the circumstances, which was minimal since the officers concede that Ms. White was in the office of closing the front door to Plaintiffs’ residence and thereby imposing a physical barrier between herself and the officers.

“To the extent the officers now claim it was necessary to physically restrain Ms. White in order to effectively combat the harm alleged to have been caused by the Plaintiffs’ dog, the Court is unconvinced. It is for a jury to determine whether Ms. White’s restraint was a reasonable response to the threat that a dog inside Plaintiffs’ home posed a public safety risk. But the mere fact that Ms. White resisted the officers’ attempts to enter her residence without a warrant is far from a legitimate basis for the officers’ actions on July 7, 2007.”

The Whites’ attorney, Mary Frances Prevost, is understandably encouraged. She doesn’t completely understand why the county doesn’t cut its losses here, but postulates that it’s the way the system is set up. Lawyers make more money when cases go to trial, she says. Lawyers make less money when cases settle.

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