Kern County Dodges Snatched Cellphone Claims

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Kern County dodged most claims that its deputies illegally confiscated a cellphone belonging to man who says he recorded deputies beating another man with batons, after a federal judge found the accused officers may not have been present at the time.
     Francisco Arrieta claims he and four other people saw deputies beating up a man across the street from Kern Medical Center around midnight on May 7, 2013, and recorded the incident on their cellphones.
     The other witnesses are plaintiffs Laura Vasquez, Sulina Quair-Vasquez, Maria Melendez and Melissa Quair.
     Arrieta says later that morning he and the other witnesses went to Quair-Vasquez’s apartment to be interviewed by investigators with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. He claims defendant deputies Brandon Rutledge and Enrique Bravo refused to let him leave until he handed over his phone though they had no warrant.
     The deputies harassed and threatened Arrieta for four hours until he finally relented and gave them his phone to avoid being late for work, the complaint states, and allegedly returned to the apartment around 10 a.m. that day and demanded Melendez’s phone as well.
     Arrieta and the others sued Kern County and the deputies in March 2014. The cases were consolidated and an amended complaint was filed in July that year.
     Kern moved to dismiss Arrieta’s claims with respect to Rutledge and Bravo on grounds that the men were not present when Arrieta claims deputies demanded his phone.
     U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sided with the county on all but one claim in a 9-page ruling issued April 22.
     O’Neill rejected Arrieta’s argument that Bravo and Rutledge were responsible for seizing his phone even if they weren’t present because they conspired with those who did take it.
     A report submitted by Rutledge proves only that he was on duty at the time of the incident, not that he was present at Quair-Vasquez’s apartment, according to the ruling.
     Arrieta’s conspiracy and state civil-rights claims against Bravo and Rutledge fail because there is no evidence that they threatened or intimidated Arrieta and the other witnesses or conspired to do so afterward, O’Neill wrote.
     However, Arrieta’s federal civil rights claim against Bravo will advance because there is a genuine dispute as to whether he was present when Arrieta’s phone was illegally seized and whether he was the one who took it, according to the ruling.
     O’Neill also shot down Arrieta’s request for a stay on the award of summary judgment.
     Arrieta had argued that a stay was warranted because the plaintiffs are waiting for Kern to hand over documents relating to the preparation and execution of search warrants, including the warrant at issue. They also wanted to depose two other detectives about their alleged involvement in the incidents.
     “Plaintiffs, however, fail to identify specific facts they hope to obtain from the documents and depositions or explain how these facts would preclude summary judgment. Rather, plaintiffs’ hopes to turn up additional information linking Bravo and Rutledge to the events seem to be based on pure speculation,” O’Neill wrote.
     Plaintiff’s attorney Chantal Trujillo with Rodriguez and Associates of Bakersfield declined to comment.
     Kern County counsel did not return requests for comment by press time.

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