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Man Forced to Lie About Height Can Press Claim

(CN) - Police officers may have coerced a California man into admitting that he was 5'11" when his driver's license listed him as 5'6," leading to his wrongful detention, the 9th Circuit ruled.

Police in Chino, Calif., pulled over Jose Ventura in December 2007 for a traffic violation and discovered a 1994 warrant for his arrest. The warrant described "Jose Ventura" as a Hispanic male who was 6'1" tall, weighed 200 pounds, and had black hair and brown eyes. Ventura's driver's license had him as 5'6" tall and 180 pounds.

A recording of the stop showed that the arresting officers incorrectly told Ventura that the warrant listed his social security number, and that they convinced Ventura to agree with their contention that he was actually 5'11".

Ventura, who speaks Spanish as his first language, said later that the officers knew he was 5'6", "but coached him to 'parrot back' that he was 5'11"."

Booked into San Bernardino's West Valley Detention Center, Ventura spent about four days in lock-up, and the parties dispute whether he ever complaint that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

Ventura was later transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail for two days, where he says he protested the false arrest to jail authorities. After spending six days in jail, a superior court judge ordered him released because his fingerprints did not match those on the original warrant. The judge noted that, at the time of his release, Ventura's release form stated he was 5'7" and weighed 320 pounds.

Ventura sued the Los Angeles, Chino and San Barnardino police in federal court, alleging violations of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as California's Bane Act, which is meant to prevent officers from intimidating and coercing suspects.

U.S. District Judge Gary Feess granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of Ventura's claims, but a unanimous appellate panel reversed on Monday, resurrecting his allegations against L.A. County under the Fourteenth Amendment and against Chino under the Bane Act.

"Considering the audio tape of Ventura's arrest in the light most favorable to him, we conclude the officers' actions raise a genuine issue of fact regarding whether the officers coerced Ventura into saying he was 5'11"," wrote Judge Morgan Christen.

Finding that "a trier of fact could conclude that the officers' quick, insistent questioning was intended to coerce Ventura into stating that he was 5'11"," and that a "judicial clearance form he received just six days after this arrest, shows his height as 5'7" and his weight as 320 pounds," the panel remanded the case for consideration of the claims.

"People gain and lose weight, but they do not shrink six or seven inches in height," Christen wrote.

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