Alameda settles excessive force suit

Alameda settles excessive force suit

Michele Ellson

 

The city has settled a lawsuit accusing Alameda police of using excessive force against a disabled man they arrested on suspicion of stealing a cell phone charger from a local phone store.

The City Council approved a settlement Tuesday to pay Jeffrey Navarro $450,000 to settle Navarro’s claims arising from the July 27, 2012 arrest. City officials said they’re not admitting any wrongdoing in the case.

“Rather than subject the city, its police department and its taxpayers to what would likely be a long and costly jury trial, the city decided it was in its best interests to bring this matter to resolution now,” Interim Assistant City Manager Amy Wooldridge wrote in response to a reporter’s questions Wednesday.

A 15-minute video of the incident which Navarro’s attorney said Sgt. Patrick Wyeth shot using a personal camera shows the officer emerge from a police car, approach Navarro and then swing a baton at him, who was knocked off the bicycle he had been riding. The incident, which took place on Clement Avenue a block from the Bridgeside Shopping Center, followed a brief police chase, the video shows.

“You better stop, otherwise, you’re going to get hurt. I don’t want to hurt you,” Wyeth says on the video.

Navarro was subsequently arrested on suspicion of petty theft from a nearby cell phone store, but the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute him, Wooldridge confirmed. The complaint said police didn’t find any stolen property on Navarro when they arrested him.

Attorney Susan Kang Gordon said Navarro, who is schizophrenic and physically disabled, suffered from multiple arm fractures and other injuries as a result of the incident. She said he was hospitalized for several months and is permanently disabled as a result of it.

“He’s still crippled today,” Gordon said Wednesday.

Wooldridge said the city conducted an internal review of the incident but found no wrongdoing on Wyeth’s part, adding that his actions were consistent with the police department’s training and policy.

“The officer identified Mr. Navarro as matching the suspect’s description as given by a local store employee’s report of a theft. The officer gave chase and Mr. Navarro failed to heed the officer’s repeated verbal warnings to stop. Ultimately, the officer took reasonable and legal steps to arrest Mr. Navarro,” she wrote.

Gordon said Navarro was unarmed and wasn't resisting arrest, and was cooperating with police.

The suit is one of five excessive force and false arrest cases the Alameda Police Department has faced over the past three years, Alameda County and federal court records show. A court dismissed one of the cases and the city settled another; two more are pending.

The settlement comes as a slew of police killings across the country has drawn the nation’s attention to police officers’ use of force.

Wooldridge said the police department has been testing body cameras and is preparing to ask the City Council’s permission to purchase them for its officers. A budget presentation offered to the council by Police Chief Paul Rolleri on Wednesday night said use of the cameras could potentially reduce officers’ use of force and also, complaints and civil cases.

The department is expected to present the proposal to purchase the cameras, which are expected to cost around $423,000, at the June 2 council meeting.

Comments

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, May 7, 2015

Every circuit court in the country has ruled that citizens are free (and protected) to film the police in the normal course of their duties. (But, don't interfere...)

https://www.aclunc.org/take-action/download-aclus-free-mobile-justice-ca...

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, May 7, 2015

So, to clarify (and apologies if the story is not clear on this) - the officer videotaped the incident.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Fri, May 8, 2015

Yes, it's clear.

But your story also notes - "The settlement comes as a slew of police killings across the country has drawn the nation’s attention to police officers’ use of force."

Those events have come to light in large part due to citizens recording police activity.

It's good for democracy when excessive force is exposed, regardless of who captures it on film.

Submitted by nora (not verified) on Fri, May 8, 2015

In the BayAreaNewsGroup version of this story [Peter Hegarty}, Wooldridge was quoted as saying Wyeth acted legally and lawfully. Really, Ms Wooldridge? A police sergeant beats an unarmed physically & mentally disabled man well-known to the beating officer, with his BATON...severely enough to break the man's left arm and right wrist...for something the DA declines to prosecute...I wouldn't describe that as acting "legally and lawfully".

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Fri, May 8, 2015

To do this to a mentally disabled man, and to KNOW that this man was mentally disabled BEFORE he did this, this officer is an inhuman monster. In this hideous day and age, ANYONE's first instinct is going to be to run from a cop, and if this man is mentally ill, that instinct is going to be heightened. For this so-called "officer" to have done these things when he KNEW the man was mentally disabled, is beyond wrong, it's IMMORAL!