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Piccuta Law Group Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit for Excessive Force Against City of Concord Police Officers
On July 25, 2019, Charles Tony Piccuta traveled to San Francisco, California to attend a mediation in a civil rights case against the City of Concord and its police department. The civil rights case was filed on behalf of the firm’s client—a disabled navy veteran with mental health issues. The lawsuit claimed that the firm’s client was savagely beaten by officers while in custody at the police department. The lawsuit claimed that the beating resulted in a torn biceps tendon requiring surgery, a fractured nose and other serious injuries.
The firm filed the lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The lawsuit claimed that the officers retaliated against the client for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. The lawsuit also alleged that the officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Since the client was in police custody at the time of the events, he was considered a pre-trial detainee.
A pre-trial detainee is someone who has been arrested and is in custody awaiting his or her criminal trial. This includes individuals who are arrested, who are being transported to the police department, who are being booked at the police station or jail, who are being held until they are able to bail out or who are in custody until the time of their criminal trial. If excessive force is used at any point in this process, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the rights of these individuals.
However, one should note, that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to individuals in custody who have been arrested under a warrant or who are in legal custody based upon probable cause for an arrest. The Fourteenth Amendment does not apply to an arrestee detained without a warrant or when probable cause for arresting that individual does not exist. In those circumstances, the Fourth Amendment would apply.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which controls California, set forth the law in the case of Pierce v. Multnomah County, Or., 76 F.3d 1032 (1996). In that case, an individual was stopped by a police officer for failure to pay a train fare. The officer then detained the individual for failure to provide identification to the satisfaction of the officer. Specifically, the individual refused to give the officer her social security number which resulted in a prolonged detention. The Court concluded that the officer had enough information to issue a citation and a “continued detention without probable case to arrest for a crime [was] unreasonable.” (Id. at 1038).
More importantly, the Court determined that the Fourth Amendment applied to the detention: “We hold, therefore that the Fourth Amendment sets the applicable constitutional limitations on the treatment of an arrestee detained without a warrant up until the time such an arrestee is released or found to be legally in custody based upon probable cause for an arrest.” (Id. at 1043)
In the case our firm handled, due to the client’s pretrial detainee status, the use of excessive force was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. An individual who is not in custody and is not considered a pre-trial detainee is entitled to be free from the use of excessive force by the government. However, these “free” individuals must bring a claim for the use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. As such, if an individual experiences the use of excessive force by police prior to being arrested or in the process of being arrested, it is a violation of his or her Fourth Amendment Rights.
Whether the Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment applies is important because it controls what standard the officer’s conduct is evaluated under
Whether the Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment applies is important because it controls what standard the officer’s conduct is evaluated under. Under both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment, an officer’s conduct is evaluated under an “objectively reasonable” standard. This standard makes it easier for someone to win a civil rights case against the police, than using the “subjectively reasonable” standard under the Eighth Amendment. The “subjectively reasonable” standard applies to individuals who are in custody after being convicted of a crime.
In the case our firm handled, the client had been arrested earlier in the evening and was being booked at the police department. The police reports claimed that the client called the officers “pigs” during the booking process and that shortly after allegedly resisted arrest. The police reports also documented that several closed fist punches and an elbow strike to the top of the client’s head were required to gain his compliance. No less than three officers were involved in the beating.
After one year of fighting the case and taking several sworn statements from the officers, our firm was able to resolve the civil rights case at the mediation. The settlement provided the firm’s client with closure to the incident. It also provided the client with money that the client stated he would spend on his family and loved ones.
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.