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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Claims of Race-Based Arrests Given a Trim

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss some claims against police officers accused of making race-based arrests for public drunkenness.

Francisco Valdez, Ricardo Vasquez and Daniel Martinez, all of whom are Latino, joined Jamil Stubbs, who is black, in a lawsuit that says they were not inebriated when officers arrested for public intoxication.

The officers maintain, however, that each plaintiff smelled of alcohol and exhibited at least one other sign of drunkenness. They claim, for example, that one was combative and another urinated on a public garage wall.

Valdez alleges that he and Vasquez were apprehended in the street and that Officer R. Amagau told him, "We don't want your kind here."

Amagau allegedly told Vasquez, "We don't want you guys to come back. We don't like you people."

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken refused to dismiss the case in March, but allowed the defendants to seek summary judgment again.

After the court declined to sever the claims relating to the Martinez and Stubbs arrests from those tied to the Valdez and Vasquez arrests, the parties then stipulated to the dismissal of some claims.

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore threw out battery claims brought by Martinez and Stubbs against Officers Wallace and Orlando, finding that the act of handcuffing a suspect alone is reasonable, since it is required to make any arrest.

"Even assuming that plaintiffs' arrests were in fact not supported by probable cause, that alone does not give rise to a battery claim," she wrote. "As this court explained during the hearing, a state law battery claim is the equivalent of a federal claim of excessive force and is analyzed under a reasonableness standard."

The relevant inquiry is whether the force the Officers Wallace and Orlando employed in arresting Stubbs and Martinez, "irrespective of the probable cause, was reasonable," the 24-page opinion states.

Since the depositions of Martinez and Stubbs show that the officers merely cuffed the men and placed them under arrest, the "defendants have shown that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact concerning the use of force involved," Westmore added.

Vasquez also failed to show that the officers who allegedly made racist remarks in arresting him used "violence, or intimidation by threat of violence," the judge found. The officer who allegedly made that exact statement was not even named as a defendant.

Vasquez claims the arresting officer grabbed his hand, zip-tied him and loaded him into a vehicle, but Westmore found no evidence that a reasonable person in this position would have been intimidated and would have perceived a threat of violence.

"Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, plaintiff Vasquez was indeed arrested, and one of the officers involved [in] that arrest made a racially-motivated comment," he wrote. "Even if that comment could be attributed to any of the named defendants in this action, however, the circumstances surrounding Vasquez's arrest do not show violence or intimidation by threat of violence, nor do they support a reasonable inference of such conduct."

Westmore found that success on the First and Fourth Amendment claims "would only establish the object of the Section 52.1 claim, that is, interference with a constitutional or statutory right. They would not establish the necessary predicate of threats, intimidation or coercion."

The judge also rejected the plaintiffs' theory that the cty of San Jose and Police Chief Robert Davis had a duty to supervise their personnel so that they do not violate the constitutional rights of citizens.

Relevant law does not establish a mandatory duty to ensure such interference does not occur, according to the ruling.

"In this case, these provisions do not give rise to the mandatory duty necessary to sustain plaintiffs' negligence claim," Westmore wrote.

In upholding the negligence claims against the remaining individual officers for failing to use reasonable force, however, the judge found that the defendants had "failed to meet their initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact concerning the individual officers' alleged failure to exercise ordinary care and prudence in detaining, arresting, and searching plaintiffs."

The defendants had conceded that a factual dispute about whether officers had probable cause to arrest Martinez, Vasquez and Stubbs means the court could not dispute false arrest and imprisonment claims against individual officers.

The individual officers named in the suit are identified only as R. Agaman and Officers Martin, Rickert, Wallace and Orlando.

The plaintiffs are represented by Andrew Stearns of Bustamante & Gagliasso in San Jose.

Ardell Johnson from the San Jose City Attorney's Office is the lead attorney for the defendants.

Neither attorney responded to a request for comment.

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