(BCN) — The city has agreed to pay $270,698 to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought by a man who was allegedly struck in the head by an off-duty Vallejo police officer outside a Walnut Creek pizzeria in August 2018, according to the man’s lawyer.
Santiago Hutchins was held at gunpoint by Vallejo police officer David McLaughlin in a parking lot outside the business following a verbal argument between the two men on the afternoon of Aug. 11, 2018.
Sanjay Schmidt, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Hutchins, said his client is satisfied with the outcome. “We believe justice was served, and we hope bringing this federal civil rights case will prompt policy reforms within the Vallejo Police Department that will prevent this from happening to anyone else in the future,” he added.
Vallejo City Attorney Veronica Nebb couldn’t be reached for comment.
The incident, which was recorded by a bystander, shows McLaughlin, dressed in shorts and a white T-shirt, pointing his service weapon at Hutchins, who had his hands raised above his head.
According to court documents, McLaughlin claimed he told Hutchins that he was going to jail after the man allegedly threatened McLaughlin and “challenged him to fight, (and) used offensive language inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction…”
A Walnut creek police officer and off-duty San Francisco sheriff’s deputy, along with McLaughlin, took Hutchins to the ground.
McLaughlin admitted to striking Hutchins in the head after he “resisted attempts to be taken into custody, and refused to comply with commands to stop resisting…,” court records show.
McLaughlin denied slamming Hutchins’ head on the ground.
“David McLaughlin needlessly endangered the public by pointing a loaded firearm at Mr. Hutchins in a crowded shopping center, causing some of the patrons to take cover and fear for their lives,” Schmidt said. “Then, once Mr. Hutchins was on the ground and was being subdued – and, thus, it was obvious that McLaughlin was no longer in jeopardy of losing a one-on-one fight with Mr. Hutchins – he took the opportunity to get his licks in. Also, he used grossly excessive force by intentionally targeting Mr. Hutchins in the head with elbow strikes and fist strikes, while Mr. Hutchins was face down, on the pavement, being held down by two other officers.”
Schmidt claims that Vallejo ratified McLaughlin’s use-of-force in the incident “by finding the internal affairs complaint that we lodged unfounded as to whether excessive force was used.”
“However, we hope that this case will encourage the City of Vallejo to make policy changes within the Vallejo Police Department regarding targeting the head area of individuals with elbows and fists – especially individuals who are face down – because such strikes can cause serious bodily injury or death,” he added. “This kind of force should be discouraged, not validated (as the VPD did in this case), and needs to be severely restricted.”
The Hutchins lawsuit isn’t the only one involving McLaughlin and alleged excessive force.
McLaughlin was seen in another video detaining a Bay Area filmmaker who filmed a traffic stop from his porch in January 2019.
Adrian Burrell eventually filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming McLaughlin gave the man a concussion and other injuries after he refused the officer’s orders to stop recording the traffic stop. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The Hutchins’ lawsuit is just the latest payout for the city of Vallejo over the past year.
Last September, the family of Ronell Foster received $5.7 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit his family filed against Vallejo. Foster was shot and killed by former Vallejo police officer Ryan McMahon.
Following the shooting, McMahon told investigators that was attempting to “educate” the man on bicycle safety after he pulled the 33-year-old Vallejo resident over for not having a light on the bicycle in February 2018. Foster fled, eventually falling along a path behind a building. McMahon claims that when he tried to hit Foster with his flashlight to subdue him, the man grabbed the heavy-duty flashlight. Fearing for his safety, McMahon fired several shots at Foster, killing the man.
During the same time, the city gave $52,000 to a man who was pulled him out of his vehicle without warning after he refused to stop filming a traffic stop in 2017.
Vallejo agreed to pay $750,000 to Carl Edwards after he suffered a broken nose, black eye, cuts to his body after several Vallejo police officers tackled him to the ground while looking for a person who was shooting kids with a slingshot.
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