Kern County Deputies Use a Heavy Hand

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - After hours of threats, Kern County sheriff's deputies forcibly took five people's cell phones after they recorded the deputies beating a man with batons, the people claim in court.
     Francisco Arrieta sued Kern County and 100 Doe defendants in Federal Court for 12 causes of action, including civil rights violations, false arrest, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     Laura Vasquez, Maria Melendez, Sulina Quair and Melissa Quair filed similar complaints in the same court.
     A similar complaint was filed in July 2013, alleging that sheriff's deputies beat to death a father of four after finding him asleep on a front lawn.
     Arrieta was at Kern Medical Center around midnight on May 7, 2013 when he saw the deputies "hitting an unrelated third man with their batons across the streets," according to the 30-page complaint.
     It continues: "During this violent encounter, plaintiff used his cell phone to record the acts of defendants. About two hours later, defendants showed up unannounced at the apartment of another witness and demanded plaintiff's cell phone that he had used to record the violent encounter. Defendants refused to allow anyone, including but not limited to plaintiff, to enter and/or exit the apartment unless plaintiff's cell phone was provided to defendants. Plaintiff told defendants they could make a copy of the video on his phone. Plaintiff explained to defendants that he could not give his phone to defendants because it had all of his personal contacts, pictures, and videos. Despite plaintiff's efforts to cooperate, defendants still refused to allow anyone ... to enter and/or exit the apartment."
     While the deputies were in Arrieta's apartment, he says, they "harass[ed], threaten[ed], intimidate[d], pressure[d], unlawfully touch[ed], and/or assault[ed] those present at the apartment," including Arrieta.
     This went on for four hours until Arrieta finally gave the deputies his cell phone to avoid being late for work, according to the complaint.
     Arrieta claims the deputies conspired to "intrude into the apartment [to] seize, assault, batter and use excessive force" against him despite having no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to do so.
     He claims the deputies violated his free speech and due process rights by taking his cell phone without permission or just compensation.
     He claims the Kern County Sheriff's Department sanctions the use of excessive force and violation of people's constitutional rights by its deputies through "inadequate" training and policies "regarding the use of force, such as against plaintiff."
     Arrieta claims he has suffered "personal injury, emotional distress, trauma, past and continuing medical expenses, wage loss and loss of earning capacity" as a result of the deputies' wrongful search and seizure.
     He seeks special and punitive damages in amounts to be determined at trial.
     He and the other plaintiffs are represented by Daniel Rodriguez.
     Emails to the Sheriff's Department seeking comment were redirected to county counsel, who did not return them by the end of business hours Monday
     Plaintiff Vasquez claims her family and friends recorded the incident on their cell phones. Two hours later, the deputies arrived at her friend's apartment and harassed them until they gave up their phones.
     Plaintiff Melendez, who also recorded the incident, says the deputies showed up at her daughter's apartment the next morning demanding Melendez's cell phone and harassed her for two hours before they got a warrant to seize her phone.
     Sisters Sulina and Melissa Quair claim that after their mother and friend used their phones to record the incident, deputies showed up at the sisters' apartment twice and would not let anyone leave until they handed over the phones.