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Judge Recuses Himself From Trial in Civil Rights Case Brought By Piccuta Law Group Attorneys Against Stockton Police for Excessive Force
On September 23, 2019, Charles Tony Piccuta of the Piccuta Law Group, LLP was in Stockton, California to begin a jury trial in a civil rights case. The civil rights lawsuit is entitled Joseph Green v. City of Stockton, Et. Al. The lawsuit is pending in the County of Stockton Superior Court as case # STK-CV-UPI-2011-14340.
With a surprising twist, the judge handling the case, the honorable Carter Holly, recused himself in the morning prior to the parties arguing pre-trial motions and one day before jury selection. The judge did not disclose the reason why, but cited he had to disqualify himself from presiding over the jury trial under California Code of Civil Procedure § 170.3. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2011 and Judge Holly had presided over the case since about that time. The trial was reset for January 6, 2020 with Judge Barbara Kronlund.
The Details of the Police Brutality Lawsuit Against the City of Stockton Police Department
The civil rights lawsuit, being advanced by Piccuta, alleges that City of Stockton police officers used excessive force on a sixteen-year-old African American boy, Joseph Green. Specifically, the police brutality lawsuit alleges that Stockton police officer, Robert Johnson, used excessive force on the boy inside the California Stop convenient store. The lawsuit alleges that the boy and Johnson engaged in a verbal exchange and that as the boy was leaving the store Johnson grabbed him from behind and pulled him back inside.
Once in the store, Johnson took the boy to the ground and punched him in the face multiple times without justification. Once the boy was on the ground with Johnson on top of him, another officer, Robert Wong, then participated by standing on the boy’s legs. The lawsuit alleges that Wong failed to intervene and stop Johnson’s illegal use of force and continued assault.
After the boy was searched and handcuffed and still on the ground face down, Johnson grabbed the back of his head, lifted it up and smashed the boy’s face into the tile floor of the store. The illegal and unjustified force used by Johnson injured the boy. The boy had his two front teeth knocked out, another tooth chipped and his lip split wide open requiring multiple stitches to repair.
Video surveillance from the store captured the incident from multiple angles. Click below to watch the video of City of Stockton police officers using excessive force. The punches landed by Johnson occur at approximately 0:10-0:20 of the video and the face smash with the boy handcuffed occurs at the 2:00 mark.
As witnesses gathered around to observe the attack, they were told to leave the store and to stop watching or that they would be arrested. The boy’s mother and his five-year-old sister, who were outside getting gas, came into the store and saw Johnson sitting on top of the boy. The boy’s mother asked for answers but was also told that she would be arrested if she did not leave. The boy’s mother refused to go and asked for Johnson’s name and badge number.
The Staging of Evidence and Cover Up by the City of Stockton Police Officers
After the boy was arrested and removed from the store, Johnson then began to cover up his assault and illegal acts. During the takedown of the boy, Johnson had bumped into a stack of handheld shopping baskets in a rack against the aisle. This caused the rack of baskets to move out of place.
However, as Johnson was supposedly collecting evidence and documenting the scene, he staged the handheld shopping baskets. Specifically, he took the baskets out of the rack they were contained in, placed them in middle of the aisle where they had never been, and photographed them. Johnson would then later write in his police report that he and the boy were engaged in a struggle at the front of the store and as they were struggling they tripped over the shopping baskets causing them both to fall to the floor.
Johnson would further claim that the fall caused the boy to land on his face which knocked out his front teeth. In other words, the fall was accidental and that he had nothing to do with the boy’s teeth being knocked out. The video surveillance of Johnson staging the shopping baskets and photographing them can be seen at 10:30-11:30 of the video surveillance in the link above.
It is common for police officers to arrest victims of excessive force for resisting arrest under California Penal Code § 148(a)(1).
Wong participated in this cover up by writing in his police report that “Det. Johnson and Joseph fell over a stack of baskets and landed on the floor in the food aisle.” However, Wong later admitted that he did not see how the two fell to the floor. Video surveillance further shows that Wong was not in a position to see the two falling to the floor.
Johnson’s cover up continued in his police report as he alleged that the boy was struggling while he was on the ground and resisted arrest. Johnson further claimed that the boy tried to spit blood on him which caused him to punch the boy multiple times in the face. However, the video surveillance shows that the boy did not resist or move at all once on the ground. The video footage also shows that from where Johnson was positioned on the boy’s back it would have been impossible for the boy to spit blood on him.
Further, Johnson completely omitted from his police report the fact that he grabbed the boy’s face and smashed it into the tile floor after the boy was handcuffed. The force that Johnson used in doing this was so great that it caused the boy’s feet to fly up behind him 3-4 feet in the air. Wong was present when this happened and wholly failed to intervene or stop Johnson from this continued assault.
Predictably, Johnson arrested the boy for resisting arrest. It is common for police officers to arrest victims of excessive force for resisting arrest under California Penal Code § 148(a)(1). Police officers must allege that the victim was resisting arrest in order to justify their improper use of force. In addition, under most circumstances, if a victim is convicted of resisting arrest under CPC § 148(a)(1), they are later prohibited from advancing a civil lawsuit alleging police excessive force or police brutality. This is not always the case, but must be analyzed on a case by case basis by a skilled civil rights lawyer. Here, the charges were dropped and never advanced by the district attorney.
The Botched Internal Affairs Investigation and Appeal Overturning the Findings
After the incident, the boy and his mother filed a citizen’s complaint against the officers. The City of Stockton Police Department investigated the charges by opening an Internal Affairs investigation. However, the investigation was inadequate. The investigation only evaluated the punches Johnson used on Green’s face. The investigation fully failed to analyze the slamming of Green’s face into the tile floor while he was handcuffed. Apparently, this was purposeful or just completely overlooked by the City of Stockton Police Department.
Despite these missteps, the City of Stockton Police Department still sustained the finding of excessive force against Officer Johnson for punching Green in the face multiple times. However, for this use of gross excessive force, the punishment elected by the City of Stockton Police Department was only a five-day suspension without pay. The Department also gave Johnson the option of picking which days he would be suspended. This would allow Johnson to spread the suspension out over time so as to not inconvenience him.
Johnson’s feet will be held to the fire by the Piccuta Law Group and its attorneys. Although not a young boy anymore, Joseph Green, will finally get his day in court
However, Johnson never served a single day of the suspension. Using a police union appointed attorney, he appealed the sustained finding of excessive force and suspension that resulted from the Internal Affairs Investigation. The matter went to arbitration where the matter was presided over by a sixty-something year old, Caucasian, woman, arbitrator. The arbitrator overturned the Internal Affairs’ finding of excessive force. In doing so, she never heard from Joseph Green, his mother, Officer Wong or other important witnesses. The arbitrator also did not hear from a witness who told Internal Affairs’ investigators that Johnson’s use of excessive force on Green was unjustified and so disturbing that it caused him to cry.
The arbitrator also did not consider the smashing of Green’s face to the tile floor while handcuffed as that was overlooked or ignored by the Internal Affairs Investigation. The arbitrator’s decision also noted that she believed she did not have the same video of the event that was reviewed by Internal Affairs. The opinion noted “the City’s counsel continued to maintain that the Arbitrator’s copy of the video was indeed the same as the one shown at the hearing. Again, the Arbitrator is convinced it is not.”
Ultimately, the arbitrator vacated the Internal Affairs’ finding. The Arbitrator overturned the five-day suspension without pay. The Arbitrator also ordered that the suspension and charges be expunged from Johnson’s personnel file.
Past Known Incidents of Excessive Force By City of Stockton Police Officer Robert Johnson
Throughout the case, it was revealed that Johnson had been involved in other situations where the use of excessive force was both claimed and sustained. Evidence suggested that Johnson had two other sustained findings of excessive force prior to his attack of Green. The Piccuta Law Group requested this evidence, but the City claimed those records had been destroyed.
In addition, Johnson was involved in two police shootings. One resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit for excessive force being filed. That lawsuit was settled.
Johnson will not be so lucky with respect to the instant case. There will be no settlement, but a trial by jury instead. Johnson can explain his fabricated story to the jury and they can render the appropriate justice and punishment they deem fitting. Johnson’s feet will be held to the fire by the Piccuta Law Group and its attorneys. Although not a young boy anymore, Joseph Green, will finally get his day in court.
Contact Our Police Excessive Force Attorneys and Civil Rights Lawyers Today
If you or a loved one was the victim of police brutality or other police misconduct, contact the Piccuta Law Group today. Our civil rights attorneys and police excessive force lawyers handle cases throughout all of California and Arizona. We regularly file civil rights lawsuits against police officers, sheriff deputies and other law enforcement officials.
We take the cases on a contingent fee basis which means it costs you nothing. We only get paid if we recover for you and obtain a settlement or judgment. We also advance all costs associated with the case and take all the financial risk involved. Contact one of our civil rights lawyers today to discuss your potential case.
About the author: The content on this page was written by California civil rights lawyer and personal injury attorney Charles “Tony” Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Ranked Top 35 US News & World Report 2018). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout California and Arizona. He is a winning trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is AV Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, Arizona Association of Justice, Maricopa County Bar Association and Scottsdale Bar Association, among other organizations.
Disclaimer: The information on this web site is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reading and relying upon the content on this page does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact our law firm for a free consultation and to discuss your specific case and issues.