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San Jose Cops Face Trial on Drunk Citation Bias

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Police officers must face claims that they made race-based arrests for public drunkenness, but the plaintiffs cannot proceed as a class, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken found that disputed issues of material fact precluded her from dismissing most claims from a 2009 lawsuit over the arrests of revelers in San Jose, Calif., three of whom are Latino and one of whom is black.

Francisco Valdez, Ricardo Vasquez, Daniel Martinez and Jamil Stubbs say they were not intoxicated and that the officers arrested them as part of a practice of wrongfully arresting minorities for public intoxication.

The officers maintain, however, that each plaintiff smelled of alcohol and exhibited at least one other sign of drunkenness. They claim, for example, that one was combative and another urinated on a public garage wall.

Valdez alleges that he and Vasquez were apprehended in the street and that Officer R. Amagau told him, "We don't want your kind here."

Amagau allegedly told Vasquez, "We don't want you guys to come back. We don't like you people."

Wilken refused Wednesday to find that the allegations of such isolated comments are "insufficient to establish discriminatory intent for the purposes of Fourteenth Amendment liability."

Amagau's isolated comment "is potentially quite probative of his underlying motives, especially since it remains disputed whether Amagau had probable cause to make the arrest," according to the ruling.

"Because the parties dispute whether Amagau actually made this comment to Valdez, Amagau is not entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' equal protection claim," Wilken added.

The judge upheld similar claims against two other officers identified only as Wallace and Orlando. She granted San Jose; its police chief, Robert Davis; and two other officers, identified only as Rickert and Martin, summary judgment on all claims.

There is no evidence that the arresting officers were supervised in their conduct or that the supervisors could have prevented the arrests.

Though the plaintiffs' expert, Jesica Giron, told the court that probable cause was lacking in over 71 percent of the 350 police reports she had gathered, Wilken questioned how these 350 reports could represent a fair cross-section when Giron had access to over a thousand reports. Giron also failed to identify her qualifications or explain her methodology, according to the ruling.

Wilken further concluded that, "most importantly, her analysis rests on the faulty assumption that symptoms of intoxication alone can never justify an officer's decision to arrest someone under 647 (f)," that is, for public intoxication.

"This assumption ignores the possibility that certain symptoms of intoxication can also provide an officer with reason to believe that someone is unable to care for him or herself," Wilken added.

The plaintiffs had relied on multiple studies to suggest that Latinos were arrested for public intoxication at higher rates than census data would predict, but Wilken said grounds other than race could explain the pattern.

She also found no evidence of insufficient officer training, placing little weight on the results from a Public Intoxication Task Force that "convened after all four plaintiffs in this case were arrested."

"Plaintiffs have not identified any evidence that SJPD made any unconstitutional arrests after the task force issued its report," according to the ruling. "Moreover, the report itself could not have provided the city with notice that SJPD officers were routinely committing constitutional violations, as plaintiffs suggest. The report focused principally on proposing procedural reforms and did not address the constitutional implications of past SJPD practices."

"Accordingly, neither the creation of the task force nor its final report gave city officials notice that a particular omission in their training program causes city employees to violate citizens' constitutional rights," Wilken added.

Similar logic led Wilken to deny class certification.

"Plaintiffs here have failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish that SJPD followed any unconstitutional policy or practice regarding public intoxication arrests," she wrote. "Specifically, they have not shown that SJPD's training procedures resulted in widespread constitutional violations nor have they provided reliable evidence showing a widespread practice of unreasonable seizures or racially discriminatory enforcement of section 647(f)."

After criticizing the supplied data as outdated, Wilken referred the parties to U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal to schedule a settlement conference, a final pretrial conference and the jury trial.

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