Local News

Friday, Dec 14 2012 04:52 PM

Man files suit against county, sheriff's deputies alleging excessive force

BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

A man who says he was beaten by sheriff's deputies nearly a year ago during an arson investigation filed a civil lawsuit Friday against the county, the sheriff's office and the deputies alleging they used excessive force, arrested him without cause, violated his Constitutional rights and attacked him because he is Latino.

"We're filing a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff for the savage beating last year of Jaime Duran without any reason or cause," Mark Algorri, a Pasadena-based lawyer representing Duran, said in front of Kern County Superior Court on Friday morning.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount for damages. The jury will decide what is an appropriate amount, Algorri said. The first hearing is scheduled for March 29, according to court records.

Duran's suit stems from a Jan. 14 incident, which Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green detailed in a September news conference. A Kern County Sheriff's deputy, Ascension Plaza, was alone on patrol and began chasing a suspect, later identified as Duran, who he believed had just set fire to the bed of a pickup truck, Green said. Duran at first hid in a shed, but then came out. When he came out, he moved as if he was going to pick up a sledgehammer. But after 40 seconds, Duran dropped to his knees with his hands behind his head, Green said.

That's when another deputy, Aaron Nadal, arrived. He tackled Duran. Plaza then struck Duran on the back of his legs with a baton, and Nadal punched Duran once in the head. Plaza struck Duran at least 11 times, Green said. Duran was arrested on suspicion of arson, but charges were dropped when it was determined Plaza was the only witness and he became under investigation for the altercation.

The sheriff's office investigated the incident and recommended charges of excessive use of force be filed against both deputies. For Plaza, the office also recommended a charge of filing a false police report.

But at the September news conference, Green announced her office would not file criminal charges against either deputy. At the time, she said that was because the office did not believe it could convince a jury of the deputies' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Algorri wholeheartedly disagrees with Green's assessment, he said. "I think this would be a slam dunk conviction," he said.

Ray Pruitt, spokesman for the sheriff's office, referred requests for comment Friday to Kern County Counsel, saying that is procedure when a lawsuit is filed. He also said he could not comment on the deputies' employment status. But in September, he said both were still employed by the department and that an administrative investigation was ongoing.

Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations said Friday morning that the suit had not yet come to his office, so he did not know the details of the case enough to comment specifically on it. When it does arrive, the office will take it seriously and investigate, he said, although he added it has already been investigated by the sheriff's and DA's offices.

"We'll respond in the manner that we deem appropriate," Nations said.

The suit lists six reasons for action. First is assault and battery of Duran. It alleges Nadal and Plaza beat Duran without provocation and caused him serious injury to both his body and his mind.

Second, the suit alleges Duran was arrested without warrant and probable cause. Third, it alleges the county acted negligently in hiring, training, retaining, supervising and controlling Nadal and Plaza. Plaza and Nadal were unfit for duty, the suit alleges.

Fourth, the suit alleges Nadal and Plaza violated Duran's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process. Fifth, the suit says the county violated those Constitutional rights by having in place policies, procedures, customs and practices that encourage excessive force. Furthermore, the suit alleges, these practices targeted minorities.

"These policies, customs, practices, also called for or permitted the unreasonable or excessive use of force against Latino and minority suspects," the suit reads.

The sixth and final reason for the suit is intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"Defendants and each, intentionally fabricated a false pretext to falsely arrest Plaintiff, place him in illegal custody, restrain so that he was incapacitated and thereafter strike, beat and humiliate Plaintiff, break his legs and body with the intent to critically injure, humiliate and punish Plaintiff for self-pleasure and gratification," the suit reads.

Duran is not talking with the media at this point, Algorri said. But Algorri said Duran is very sorry he had to file a lawsuit and make taxpayers pay for the deputies' actions.

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