Monday, October 30, 2006
C.A. Revives Professor’s Brutality Suit Against Sheriff’s Deputies
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Sheriff’s deputies were not entitled to qualified immunity in a civil rights suit where they allegedly detained a 60-year-old man wearing only a t-shirt outside for approximately one hour when there was no safety threat, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. One reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian F. Gasdia, who had entered summary judgment in favor of the deputies in a suit brought by retired college professor Trinidad Macias.
The accounts of what happened differ markedly. Macias, who has 90 percent hearing loss in both ears and was not wearing his hearing aid at the time, said that at about 5 a.m. one morning he was praying the rosary while he sat on the toilet in his Pico Rivera home, wearing only a t-shirt.
He felt a rumbling sensation under his feet that felt like an earthquake, and then three Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, wearing combat-type clothing, burst into the bathroom with their guns drawn. Macias pointed to his ears to try to indicate that he was deaf, he alleged.
No Safety Threat
The deputies allegedly pulled Macias off the toilet, threw him to the floor, and dragged him outside, striking his shoulder against the wall. Macias claims he was forced to stand in his driveway wearing only the t-shirt, with his genitals exposed, under guard and unable to reenter his house to get more clothing or his hearing aid, for about an hour.
It took the deputies only about four minutes to determine that there were no safety threats within the home.
The deputies testified that when members of the team arrived at Macias’ home to execute a warrant, they knocked and announced their presence more than once but received no reply.
Detective John Rossman then forced open the door to the house. Detectives Jonas Shipe and Michael Cadiz were the first to enter, followed by Sergeant Frank Carey Rossman also entered but remained just inside the door.
Seconds after Shipe and Cadiz entered, they said, they saw Macias standing in a hallway. Macias was wearing an “over-sized t-shirt,” apparently covering his genitals. Cadiz walked Macias toward the door, handing him off to Detective Mark Lopez, who had entered the house as well.
Lopez said he took Macias to the door and transferred him to Detective Dawn Retzlaff, who detained him outside while the deputies inside searched and secured the house. Not more than four minutes later, when the house was secure, Macias was brought back inside.
Macias sued, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and related state law claims. He did not dispute that the deputies had probable cause to search the house.
Gasdia granted the deputies’ summary judgment motions on the ground that “[t]he facts presented fail to create a triable issue as to whether a reasonable officer would have understood he was violating a clearly established constitutional right.”
Justice Frances Rothschild, writing for the Court of Appeal, said:
“The record contains evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that Macias, wearing nothing but a t-shirt that left his genitals exposed, was detained outside for approximately one hour despite the fact that deputies determined within four minutes that neither Macias himself nor anything inside his house posed a safety threat. If those are indeed the facts, then Macias’ detention was patently unreasonable.”
“We conclude that it should have been clear to any reasonable officer that Macias’ detention was unlawful, if the facts are as Macias alleges.”
Justice Robert M. Mallano and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frank Jackson, sitting on assignment, concurred in the opinion.
Paul L. Hoffman and Michael Morrison of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman and Vicki I. Sarmiento represented Macias. Roger H. Granbo of the county counsel’s office and Donna B. Koch and Martin Stein, Carolyn Oill and Lillie Hsu of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, represented the detectives.
The case is Macias v. County of Los Angeles, 06 S.O.S. 5686.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company