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Alberto Hernandez v. County of San Bernardino et al

February 6, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Otis D. Wright, II United States District Judge

JS-6 O



"'Data! Data! Data!' he cried impatiently. 'I can't make bricks without clay.'" Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 289 (Harper & Bros. Publishers 1900). Despite Sherlock Holmes's admonition, Plaintiff Alberto Hernandez tries to make a case with no evidence. Hernandez alleges that several officers engaged in excessive force against him while he was being detained following arrest. When Defendants moved for summary judgment, Hernandez did little to shed light on the nature and extent of an injury to his left arm allegedly caused by Officer Fidler of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. And as far as Monell liability against the County, Hernandez did not even address it in his Opposition. Defendants have established a lack of genuine issues of material fact, and Hernandez failed to rebut Defendants' entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Consequently, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1


Fontana police arrested Hernandez on the morning of December 13, 2009, for stealing alcohol from a Circle K store. (Thebeau Decl. Ex. B.; Hernandez Dep. 11:12--13.) Hernandez was tackled to the ground by the arresting officer as he was leaving the scene. (Hernandez Dep. 11:12--24.) Fontana police then took Hernandez to the Fontana Police Department. (Id. at 15:9--19.) Following questioning at the station, Hernandez was driven to West Valley Detention Center ("WVDC") for booking and pretrial detention. (Id. at 15:20--21, 17:3--23.)

Upon arrival at WVDC, Booking Officer Esther Covarrubias fingerprinted Hernandez at a booking window. (Id. at 21:13--22.) Covarrubias allegedly informed Officer Arturo Ramirez about a "situation" going on between her and Hernandez. (Ramirez Decl. ¶ 5.) Hernandez was supposedly being uncooperative with Covarrubias, and the two exchanged words. (Id. at ¶¶ 3--4.) Ramirez approached Hernandez to inquire about the situation and remembers Hernandez saying something like "that bitch needs to calm down." (Id.) Officer Zachery Fidler overheard arguing going on between Hernandez and Covarrubias and then observed Hernandez walk away from the booking window. (Fidler Dep. 35:15--25.) Hernandez does not recall ever telling Covarrubias to "calm the F down." (Hernandez Dep. 21:23--25.)

At that point, Ramirez decided to transport Hernandez to a sobering cell. (Ramirez Decl. ¶ 6.) Ramirez placed Hernandez in a "control hold," whereby Ramirez "placed [Hernandez's] right arm behind his back and then moved his right wrist to the middle of his back." (Id. at ¶ 8.)

Officer Robert Escamilla then approached Hernandez's right side and put his arm on Hernandez's right shoulder. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Fidler then saw that Hernandez's left arm was still free, so he executed a "rear wrist lock" on Hernandez's left arm. (Fidler Dep. 36:10--11, 37:8.) This entailed Fidler grabbing Hernadez's left elbow with his left hand and then grabbing Hernandez's left wrist with his right hand. (Id. at 37:9--24.) Fidler then moved Hernandez's wrist to the middle of his back. (Id. at 38:5--7.)

Hernandez does not recall in which position his left arm was, but it "snapped" after Fidler executed the wrist lock. (Hernandez Dep. 36:4--13.) Hernandez then felt a "big pain." (Id. at 36:18). The whole incident happened very quickly. (Id. at 35:6--7.) It appears to the court that it is more likely than not that the injury occurred when Hernandez was tackled to the ground by the arresting agency. The application of the control hold which was captured on video tape and reviewed by the court, did not appear to have been applied with sufficient force to have caused injury.

The San Bernardino County's Sheriff's Department's Policy requires all deputies to use only that force that "reasonably appears necessary, given the facts and circumstances perceived by the deputy at the time of the event, to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement purpose." (Thebeau Decl. Ex. J.) The Policy employs a "reasonable deputy" standard and contemplates that deputies must make quick decisions in tense situations after considering all the circumstances. (Id.)

Section 3.606 of the Sheriff's Policy enumerates 11 factors a deputy should take into consideration in determining the reasonableness of his or her force. (Id. Ex. K.) They include the behavior of the individual, the size and strength of the individual, the individual's level of intoxication, and the existence of exigencies. (Id.) A deputy is not allowed to use force if a person is compliant with the deputy's orders. (Fidler Dep. 22:12--17.)

Hernandez filed a Complaint in this Court on December 13, 2011, alleging two claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On July 30, 2012, the Court granted leave to identity the Doe defendants named in the suit. (ECF No. 18.) Hernandez filed his First Amended Complaint against the County of San Bernardino, Esther Covarrubias, Robert Escamilla, Zachery Fidler, and Arturo Ramirez on August 14, 2012. (ECF No. 19.) His first § 1983 claim alleges that the officer-Defendants used excessive force against him at WVDC, thus violating his ...

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