LOS ANGELES (CN) – A senior producer at TMZ says a bailiff roughed up, handcuffed and humiliated her last year while she was working as a public information officer at Los Angeles Superior Court.
Vania Stuelp says in her Superior Court complaint that she was complying with a judge’s order to confiscate prohibited video footage of criminal proceedings against a reality TV star, when the bailiff grabbed her, slammed her up against a wall, handcuffed her and threw her into a chair in front of a crowd of people.
Stuelp sued Los Angeles County, the Sheriff’s Department, the bailiff and a district attorney, who she says stood by and “smirked” during the alleged assault.
On Jan. 25, 2010, Stuelp claims Judge Leslie Swan denied French company Camicas Productions’ request to film a criminal hearing for “Pretty Wild” star Alexis Neiers. She says the judge sent the order to the Public Information Office (PIO) – “whose job it was to implement the Court’s directives concerning the media to the media.”
“Accordingly, the PIO advised representatives of Camicas Productions that Judge Swain had denied their request to film the proceedings and, moreover, that filming and photography anywhere in the courthouse, including the hallway, was strictly prohibited,” Stuelp’s complaint states.
Stuelp says that when she arrived at the court the next day, she caught a Camicas cameraman filming Neiers, who was sitting in the hallway outside of the courtroom. The Camicas camera crew refused to erase the footage, so Stuelp says she directed them into a courtroom and called Sergeant Rick Lucas of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Inside the courtroom, Stuelp says District Attorney Arunas Sodonis questioned her and told her that the area she was standing in was for “attorneys only,” even after she presented her badges.
Then, Stuelp says, the cameraman tried to remove the videotape with the “prohibited footage” and replace it with a blank one. She claims she asked him for the tape and “(a)s he prepared to give Stuelp the tape, his producer began arguing with him in French and stopped him from doing so.”
The bailiff, Ronald Cabrera, then came into the courtroom, and yelled at all of them to leave, according to the complaint.
After she tried to explain the situation to Cabrera, Stuelp claims he began “aggressively pulling her jacket and then viciously grabbing her arm, while screaming that he was going to throw her out of his courtroom.”
Cabrera then dragged her by her arm toward the door, “viciously grabbed Stuelp’s other arm, pulled both her arms behind her back and violently slammed the front of her body against the back wall of the courtroom,” she says.
Stuelp says that Cabrera violently held up her arms, “ordered her to open her legs, viciously forced his forearm into Stuelp’s back and forcefully grabbed her wrists and handcuffed them.”
“As this was occurring, Plaintiff Stuelp continued to explain that she worked for the Court and exclaimed that Defendant Cabrera was physically hurting her,” she says. Stuelp claims that “(w)hen she turned to [District Attorney] Defendant Sodonis to plead for assistance, Defendant Sodonis only smirked and responded in a mocking manner, ratifying Cabrera’s forceful conduct.”
“Defendant Cabrera then forcibly dragged Stuelp by her arm and viciously threw Stuelp’s body onto the hard wooden chair reserved for criminal defendants while her hands remained handcuffed behind her back,” the lawsuit states.
“Throughout this entire portion of the incident, the courtroom was filled with spectators – all of whom witnessed these demeaning and humiliating events,” Stuelp says.
When Sergeant Lucas arrived, Stuelp says he demanded that Cabrera remove the handcuffs.
The next day, TMZ reported the allegations, stating on its website: “The videotape was never confiscated. Those damn French.”
Stuelp demands punitive damages for assault and battery, negligence and emotional distress.
She is represented by Shawn Holley of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert in Santa Monica, Calif.