Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Court Rejects Woman’s Complaint She Was Harassed by Deputy
Panel Says Plaintiff Lacked a Plausible Allegation of Failure by LASD to Give Proper Training
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A woman who claimed she was molested by a sheriff’s deputy when trying to clear a “fix-it” ticket at the Metropolitan Courthouse failed to make a plausible allegation that the Sheriff’s Department fails to train its deputies not to assault women, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The panel affirmed a district judge’s order dismissing Maria Flores’ Fourth Amendment claim against Los Angeles County and former Sheriff Lee Baca.
“Flores’s allegations do not establish that the County or Baca were deliberately indifferent to the risk of sexual assault by deputies on members of the public, nor that the assault on Flores was a known or obvious consequence of the alleged lack of training of deputies,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote. “Further, in view of the penal code of California, which already prohibited such assault, and which law the deputies were sworn to uphold, and in the absence of any pattern of sexual assaults by deputies, Flores has also failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim, plausible on its face, that the alleged failure to train officers not to commit sexual assault constituted deliberate indifference.”
Flores alleged in her complaint that while she was in the vehicle inspection area waiting to show that she had corrected a mechanical violation, a deputy—whom she named as Deputy Doe 1 in her complaint, and never further identified or served with process—touched and fondled her without her consent.
The complaint alleged that the sheriff and the county “failed to implement proper training to protect women to ensure that Sheriff’s [d]eputies do not sexually assault women that...[they] come into contact with at the Vehicle Inspection Area.” It noted that another deputy was convicted in 2006 of three sexual assaults—not alleged to have occurred in the vicinity where Flores was allegedly assaulted—and said the prior incidents put the county on notice of the need to improve deputies’ training.
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California dismissed the Fourth Amendment claim, along with state tort claims of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Only the dismissal of the federal claim was appealed.
Pattern or Practice
Bea, in his opinion for the Ninth Circuit, noted that in order to prove a civil rights violation based on inadequate training of law enforcement personnel, a plaintiff must prove that the agency or its top decision maker were on notice of a pattern or practice of misconduct by inadequately trained employees.
The three assaults by a single deputy at a facility other than that at which the plaintiff was assaulted does not rise to the level of a pattern or practice, Bea said, nor is there a “basis from which to conclude that the unconstitutional consequences of failing to train police officers not to commit sexual assault are so patently obvious that the County or Baca were deliberately indifferent.”
The judge went on to explain that under Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the plaintiff was required to present a plausible allegation that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department did not train its deputies not to commit sexual assaults on civilians, and failed to do so.
The allegation of failure to train, he noted, was based solely on the absence of specific language in the department’s training manual. The claim that inclusion of such language in the manual is necessary to stop sexual assaults by deputies, the judge said, is inconsistent with the fact that a deputy who commits such an assault is engaging in a crime, he said.
“If the threat of prison time does not sufficiently deter sexual assault, it is not plausible to assume that a specific instruction not to commit sexual assault will provide such deterrence, and therefore failure to include such instruction does not constitute deliberate indifference absent a longstanding pattern of such criminal behavior,” he wrote.
Attorneys on appeal were South Pasadena sole practitioner Luis Carillo for the plaintiff and Thomas C. Hurrell and Melinda Cantrall of Hurrell Cantrall LLP for the county and Baca.
The case is Flores v. County of Los Angeles, 12-56623.
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