SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A deputy sheriff is off the hook for tackling a man during a court appearance, but Sonoma County still may be held liable, a federal judge ruled.
Artemis Herrera Rojas said the scuffle occurred on July 27, 2009 at the Sonoma County courthouse where he was fighting a second offense of driving with a suspended license. Deputy Sheriff Clark, whose first name does not appear in court documents, allegedly tackled Rojas and beat him with five other deputies.
Clark had apparently heard Rojas saying “fuck you” in the courtroom. As five other officers joined Clark during the alleged assault, one deputy called Rojas a murderer and gang member, and another said, “Hit him again, so he can go back to Mexico.” Rojas was then arrested and held in custody for six weeks until he could post bail.
In partially dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen found Clark was not responsible for his fellow officers’ remarks and that the attack was not racially motivated.
“The court agrees with defendants that, in his complaint, Mr. Rojas fails to make any allegation that Deputy Clark acted with an intent to discriminate on an impermissible basis,” Chen wrote. “While other deputies allegedly made statements that arguably show a discriminatory intent – e.g., one deputy said, ‘Hit him again, so he can go back to Mexico,’ and another deputy called him a murderer and gang member – there is nothing to indicate that Deputy Clark made a similar type of comment to Mr. Rojas.”
Sonoma had tried to dismiss Rojas’ state-law claims for assault, battery, false arrest and negligence, claiming Rojas failed to identify any statute providing for liability. Chen concluded last week, however, that the county could be held vicariously liable for the beating and arrest.
Chen also rejected Rojas’ claim for false arrest for the few moments when Clark pinned him to the ground. “The incident at issue here which Mr. Rojas alleges constituted the false arrest occurred in a matter of seconds,” Chen wrote. “More importantly, as alleged, there is nothing to indicate that Deputy Clark intended to prevent Mr. Rojas from conferring with his attorney or to otherwise confine him; rather, his alleged intent was simply to assault Mr. Rojas – i.e., any confinement was incidental to the assault and battery and/or use of excessive force.”