Alameda County Pays $75,000 for Use of Force

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Alameda County will pay $75,000 to settle claims that a sheriff’s deputy knocked down a civil rights protester and ripped out clumps of her hair when she refused to strip to her underwear in front of male deputies and prisoners.
     Christine Arechiga was at Oakland’s state office building on Feb. 13, 2014, protesting Attorney General Kamala Harris’s failure to prosecute police officers who killed unarmed citizens. The California Highway Patrol arrested her for misdemeanor trespass and sent her to Santa Rita Jail.
     At the jail, defendant Alameda County Sheriff’s Officer Karla Varela lined her and others against a wall, in the presence of several male deputies and “approximately 17 to 20 male prisoners who had a full and clear view of the women,” Arechiga said in her March 2015 complaint.
     Varela ordered the women to strip off their shirts “down to their bottom layer,” and when Arechiga refused, Varela “launched into a scream” and told her that she had “no rights,” Arechiga said.
     Arechiga asked to speak to a duty officer, citing the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, whereupon, she says, Varela handcuffed her, kicked her to the ground and pulled out clumps of her hair.
     She was put in a 5-by-8-foot holding cell, filled with “close to 11 women,” in which the toilet was overflowing with menstrual blood and feces and the floor was covered with urine, feces, menstrual blood, decaying food and bloodied clothing, according to the complaint.
     In answer to Arechiga’s complaint, Alameda County denied the allegations, stating that “defendant and its employees had reasonable cause to act and acted properly in valid law enforcement activities.”
     But Arechiga’s attorney Christian Pereira said in an interview Monday that the county failed to train the deputies in the verbal de-escalation techniques necessary to defuse high-pressure situations like the one the night Arechiga was arrested.
     “Every interaction the deputies had trying to get someone’s compliance ended in the use of force, not through communicating with that person,” Pereira said. “They should have employed a policy of de-escalation and not escalation.”
     He also blamed the county’s failure to adequately staff the jail in preparation for the large number of protesters brought in that night.
     “If you have more deputies around who are better trained, they would be able to better do their job,” Pereira said. “It was a very unfortunate circumstance and it could have been avoided had the county better equipped the deputies working in the jail.”
     The defendants included Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles, Varela, five other officers and Alameda County.
     Defendants’ counsel Gregory Rockwell did not return a request for comment. He is with Boornazien Jensen & Garthe in Oakland.
     Pereira is with Casillas & Associates in Long Beach.

%d bloggers like this: