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Piccuta Files Amended Complaint Against Monterey County Sheriffs Alleging Police Excessive Force, Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs and First Amendment Retaliation
On May 29, 2019, Piccuta Law Group filed an amended complaint in a civil rights matter it is handling on behalf of a client who was held at the Monterey County Jail. The case is entitled Dunham v. County of Monterey, Et Al. (Case # 3:18-cv-04467). The case is pending before Judge Laporte in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
The amended complaint claims that Dunham was a pre-trial detainee who was viciously beaten while he was suffering from a life-threatening medical condition. Specifically, severe alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens. The amended complaint added two important claims-First Amendment Retaliation and Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs.
Civil Rights Claims for a Violation of the First Amendment
The first claim that was added was for retaliation in violation of the client’s First Amendment Rights. The First Amendment protects individuals from being retaliated against for exercising their rights to free speech among other things. The First Amendment sets Forth:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
First Amendment retaliation claims are brought by way of a federal statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a § 1983 first amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must provide evidence showing that:
(1) [he] engaged in constitutionally protected activity; (2) the defendant’s actions would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in the protected activity; and (3) the protected activity was a substantial motivating factor in the defendant’s conduct—i.e., that there was a nexus between the defendant’s actions and an intent to chill speech. Ariz. Students’ Ass’n v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 824 F.3d 858, 867 (9th Cir. 2016).
A person’s free speech rights includes the rights to freely criticize and question law enforcement officers. This was recognized as recently as the case of Ford v. City of Yakima, 706 F.3d 1188, 1194 (9th Cir. 2013). In Ford, prior to a traffic stop, a police car had been following a motorist-driver. While stopped at a traffic light, the driver exited his car and asked the officer why he was following him so closely. The officer felt “concerned for [his] safety” and told the driver to get back in his vehicle and leave. After the parties drove through the intersection, the officer initiated a traffic stop of the driver.
The driver turned into a parking area and then exited his vehicle, yelling at the officer. The officer approached the driver, armed with his taser, and asked the driver for his license and registration. The officer viewed the situation as “very dangerous.” As the driver retrieved his license and registration, he stated that he believed the stop was racially motivated. The driver was then warned to stay in his vehicle or risk going to jail. Nothing further of consequence was said by the driver.
“The 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.”
The court stated that “[t]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.” Id. at 1192. Further, “[w]hile an individual’s critical comments may be provocative and challenging, they are nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.” Id. at 1192-1193 Further, “[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.
The Court ultimately held that the plaintiff set forth facts sufficient to show a violation of his “clearly established First Amendment right to be free from police force action motivated by retaliatory animus, even if probable cause existed for that action.” In the case handled by the Piccuta Law Group, the amended complaint alleges that the client was retaliated against for repeatedly demanding that he be provided a bed roll and cup of water. This was during a hallucinogenic state that the client was experiencing due to severe alcohol withdrawal. The amended complaint alleges that the deputies interpreted these requests as obnoxious demands and sought to teach the client a lesson, so to speak. No less than four to five deputies entered the client’s cell in response. Those four to five deputies beat Plaintiff severely and tased him. The photos below, which were revealed in the case, show the client’s injuries and the location of the attack.
Civil Rights Claims for Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs
The second claim that was added by the amended complaint was for deliberate indifference to medical needs. Like a First Amendment Retaliation claim, a deliberate indifference to medical need claim is also asserted through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, which constitutional right is violated is determined by the status of the individual who suffered the violation.
Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs Claims Under the Eighth Amendment
When an individual is a prisoner who has been convicted of a crime, any claim for deliberate indifference to medical needs must be asserted under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Eighth Amendment sets forth: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The case of Lemire v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 726 F.3d 1062 (2013) provides a good summary of the standard required to advance an Eighth Amendment Violation claim on behalf of an inmate in California.
The Lemire case set forth the law:
For an inmate to bring a valid § 1983 claim against a prison official for a violation of the Eighth Amendment, he must first objectively show that he was deprived of something sufficiently serious. A deprivation is sufficiently serious when the prison official’s act or omission results in the denial of the minimal civilized measures of life’s necessities. Next, the inmate must make a subjective showing that the deprivation occurred with deliberate indifference to the inmate’s health or safety. To satisfy this subjective component of deliberate indifference, the inmate must show that prison officials knew of and disregarded the substantial risk of harm, but the officials need not have intended any harm to befall the inmate; it is enough that the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm. Finally, plaintiffs alleging deliberate indifference must also demonstrate that the defendants’ actions were both an actual and proximate cause of their injuries. However, a person who is in custody and is not a convicted inmate, has the status of a pre-trial detainee. A pre-trial detainee is able to assert a deliberate indifference claim under the 14th Amendment. Bringing a claim under the 14th Amendment is more favorable to the Plaintiff than bringing a claim under the 8th Amendment because it is evaluated under an “objectively” reasonable standard as opposed to a “subjectively” reasonable standard.
Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs Claims Under the Fourteenth Amendment
As set forth above, whether or not a deliberate indifference claim is advanced under the 8th Amendment or 14th Amendment is determined by the status of the victim or complaining party. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment sets forth:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The Ninth Circuit, in which California is located, requires the following to prevail on a deliberate indifference to medical need claim: 1) the defendant or officer, made an intentional decision to deny medical care; 2) the denial of the care put the Plaintiff or detainee in substantial risk of suffering serious harm; 3) the defendant or officer did not take reasonable measures to abate or reduce the risk of serious harm, even though a reasonable officer under the circumstances would have understood the high degree of risk involved—making the consequences of the defendant or officer’s conduct obvious; and 4) by not taking such measures the defendant of officer caused the Plaintiff or detainee’s injuries.
With respect to the third element, the defendant’s conduct must be objectively unreasonable. The above elements to prove a deliberate indifference to medical needs claim under the 14th Amendment are taken from the Ninth Circuit’s Model Civil Jury Instruction 9.30. The Ninth Circuit Court in Gordon v. County of Orange, 888 F.3d 1118 (2016), reinforced the same. “We hold that claims for violations of the right to adequate medical care brought by pretrial detainees against individual defendants under the Fourteenth Amendment must be evaluated under and objective deliberate indifference standard.” In the case that the Piccuta Law Group is handling, the amended complaint asserted claims for deliberate indifference to medical needs under the 14th Amendment because the Monterey County Jail and its sheriff deputies failed to provided needed medical care. Instead, they beat up the firm’s client while he was delusional, hallucinating and undergoing life-threatening alcohol withdrawal. The amended complaint alleges that Monterey County Jail’s own protocol places someone with an alcohol withdrawal (CIWA) score of 15 or greater “in the highest, most severe level.” When the firm’s client went to the emergency room, shortly after being beaten by Sheriff Deputies, his alcohol withdrawal score was a 51. He was put in the Intensive Care Unit accordingly to stabilize his life-threatening condition.
Click the following link to read the First Amended Complaint filed in Dunham v. Najem, Et Al.
Contact One of Our Monterey Attorneys to Discuss Your Civil Rights Case
If you or a loved one has experienced police excessive force or any other violation of your civil rights by law enforcement, contact the Piccuta Law Group today. We handle and win civil rights cases involving: police brutality, false arrest, wrongful search and seizure, excessive force, First Amendment retaliation, wrongful tasering, wrongful police shooting, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, excessive use of K-9 or police dog, among other claims. One of our experienced civil rights attorneys is available now to discuss your potential case and provide a consultation at no charge.
About the author: The content on this page was written by Monterey 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 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.