Charles Tony Piccuta Files New Civil Rights Lawsuit Alleging Police Excessive Force Against City of Salinas and Its Officers

On October 25, 2018, Charles Tony Piccuta, filed a new civil rights lawsuit against the City of Salinas and its police officers. The lawsuit was filed in federal court and alleges that police officers with the Salinas Police Department used excessive force on the firm’s client. The lawsuit is entitled Zared Rodriguez Suarez v. City of Salinas, Officer Zachary Dunagan, Et Al. The civil rights lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and designated case # 3:18-CV-06515. The case has been assigned to Judge Vince Chhabria who is located in the San Francisco Division.

Click the following link to read a copy of the lawsuit. Reyes v. City of Salinas. 

The Factual Allegations Asserted by Our Monterey Civil Rights Lawyers

In the lawsuit, our lawyers alleged as follows: On July 20, 2017, Mr. Suarez was attending the Salinas Rodeo. Mr. Suarez, who is a special needs teacher and does not drink alcohol, was at the rodeo with his girlfriend and friends. They were all in a section of the rodeo that served alcohol and featured a mechanical bull with live music. At or near closing, police officers started ushering patrons out, including Mr. Suarez.

As Mr. Suarez and others were being ushered toward the exit area, he encountered other officers who gave opposite instructions and told him to back up. Mr. Suarez then explained that he was confused and was being told to move forward by other officers. Mr. Suarez asked what he should do. This enraged an officer at the exit who grabbed Mr. Suarez, put him in an arm bar and forcefully twisted his arm up behind his back. Almost immediately, five or six additional Salinas police officers seized Mr. Suarez and threw him to the ground.

Once on the ground and surrounded by no less than six police officers, Mr. Suarez was beaten with fists, elbows, knees and struck repeatedly. The officers dropped from a standing position to their knees onto the back of Mr. Suarez’s head with the full weight of their bodies. At least one officer, took out a metal baton and struck Mr. Suarez more than once. This is despite the fact that Mr. Suarez posed no threat to the officers, was not combative and did not resist any officer at any time.

A portion of the beating was captured on cell phone video. Watch the videos below which show multiple officers manhandling Mr. Suarez and striking him with a metal baton for no reason.

Mr. Suarez was placed in handcuffs and taken outside the venue gates. He was then released by Officer Dunagan. He was not cited for any violation nor was he charged with a crime. No criminal charges were pursued by the City of Salinas, because Mr. Suarez was a victim who did nothing wrong.

As a result of the beating, Mr. Suarez suffered injuries to his neck, shoulder, wrist, face, head and left eye. Mr. Suarez was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the beating and now suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, depression, nightmares and paranoia. Mr. Suarez continues to receive treatment for his injuries.

The Claims Asserted by Our Lawyers

Our Monterey Civil Rights Lawyers asserted seven claims in the civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Suarez. Those claims include: 1) violation of the First Amendment (right to free speech); 2) violation of the Fourth Amendment (right to be free from excessive force); 3) violation of the Fourth Amendment (right to be free from unlawful seizure and unlawful arrest); 4) violation of the Bane Act (Cal. Civil Code § 52.1(b)); 5) Assault; 6) Battery; and 7) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

Of the above claims, the claims for violations of the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment were brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This federal law allows individuals to bring claims against local and state government entities and employees for violations of constitutional rights. The remaining claims, for violation of the Bane Act, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, arise under California State law.

First Amendment Civil Rights Law Explained by Our Monterey Civil Rights Lawyers

From the perspective of us, a claim for violation of the First Amendment should be brought when a law enforcement officer uses excessive force against an individual for exercising his or her constitutional right to free speech. This is known as First Amendment retaliation and it is unlawful. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Houston v. Hill, set forth that “the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.” City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 461 (1987). In fact, “[t]he freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” Id. at 462–63.

In the Ninth Circuit, which includes California, an individual has a right “to be free from police action motivated by retaliatory animus but for which there was probable cause” See Skoog v. County of Clackamas, 469 F.3d 1221, 1235 (9th Cir.2006). In order to establish a claim of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, a Plaintiff must demonstrate that the officers’ conduct would chill a person of ordinary firmness from future First Amendment activity. Id. at 1231–32. In simple terms, this means that a police officer or other law enforcement officer has no right to use force or arrest someone for asking simple questions or voicing his or her opinions. If an officer was to do so, this would “chill” ordinary persons from presenting questions or voicing their opinions to law enforcement officers.

Contact One of Our Monterey Civil Rights Lawyers to Discuss Your Civil Rights Case

If you or someone you know believe you have a civil rights case, contact one of our civil rights lawyers today. Our firm handles civil rights cases throughout California and Arizona. Our lawyers are not limited to the peninsula only. We have handled cases for individuals as far north as Washington State and as far South as San Diego. We also regularly handle cases throughout all of Arizona. Our civil rights attorneys handle a variety of cases including, but not limited to: prisoner cases, police brutality, unlawful arrest, correctional officer sexual abuse, law enforcement excessive force, malicious prosecution, violations of the First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Bivens Claims, FTCA claims, Bane Act violations, among several others.

About the author: The content on this page was authored and prepared by attorney Charles Tony Piccuta. He graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington in 2006 (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 is a trial attorney that regularly handles civil rights lawsuits and serious personal injury cases. 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 a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project and Arizona Association of Justice, among other organizations.

Disclaimer: The information on this web site is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact one of our attorneys and discuss your specific case and issues.