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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Punitive Damage Claim for Excessive Force|Can Proceed Against L.A. County, Judge Says

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A man who says Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies hit him over the head with a can of pepper spray and jailed him on false charges may pursue his claim for punitive damages for excessive force, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II denied the county's motion to dismiss Troy Dugan's complaint.

Dugan claimed police violated his constitutional rights when unidentified officers injured and arrested him in late 2009 at a home where he was trying to help a neighbor resolve a dispute with her landlord.

Dugan was 61 years old at the time.

He claimed police rushed into the house with guns drawn, and that two officers tried to pepper spray him and hit him on the head with the can, cutting his forehead. Dugan claims he had done nothing illegal and did not fight back or resist arrest.

"The blow split open the side of Mr. Dugan's forehead and caused him to bleed profusely," the complaint states. "The deputies then pushed or slammed Mr. Dugan into the wall, spreading blood all over the room and wall, and handcuffed him."

Dugan was charged with resisting arrest, but the charges were dropped.

He then sued three sheriff's deputies for civil rights violations, and sued Los Angeles County for unlawful customs, policies and habits.

Dugan claimed the officers jailed him for four days on false charges and filed false police reports.

The deputies claimed his complaint should be dismissed, because Dugan did not establish the personal involvement of five of the seven officers, and failed to identify the two deputies responsible for his arrest.

But Judge Otis disagreed. He found that if the deputies had filed false reports "intending to deprive plaintiff of his Fourth Amendment rights," as Dugan claimed, they might be liable.

"Moreover, plaintiff alleges that all of the deputies unlawfully arrested and booked plaintiff on false charges. Therefore, plaintiff pled facts sufficient to show that each of the seven deputies was personally involved in violating plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights," Otis wrote.

The judge added that "failure to identify the two arresting officers is not fatal" and that discovery would allow Dugan to establish who the officers were.

"Plaintiff alleges that he cooperated with the deputies' commands and did not resist arrest," Otis wrote in support of Dugan's claim for punitive damages. "Nevertheless, one of the deputies pepper-sprayed him and then used the can to strike him in the head. ... After handcuffing plaintiff, the deputies dragged him out of the residence on his stomach. ... Additionally, the deputies booked plaintiff in jail on false charges and subsequently filed false police reports. ... These facts, if found true, could support a conclusion that the deputies misused their authority, acted with unnecessary harshness, or were recklessly indifferent to plaintiff's rights."

But Otis rejected Dugan's claims of unlawful customs, policies and habits, finding Dugan did not present facts to support those allegations.

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