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Mazzetti v. Bellino

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 5, 2014

CHRIS BELLINO, et al., Defendants

Page 1263

For Michelle A. Mazzetti, Plaintiff: Quinton B. Cutlip, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Dolan Law Firm, San Francisco, CA.

For Chris Bellino, David Sanchez, Brendan Bonner, Defendants: Chi Soo Kim, GOVT, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, Sacramento, CA.

Page 1264



This is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Bivens action brought by Plaintiff Michelle Mazzetti (" Mazzetti" ) against three park rangers employed at Yosemite National Park (collectively " the Rangers" ). The operative complaint is the Second Amended Complaint (" SAC" ). Mazzetti alleges various constitutional violations, including a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim. Defendants move to dismiss the malicious prosecution claim under Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be denied.


From the SAC, on July 26, 2011, Mazzetti was in a Yosemite National Park campground with friends. The Rangers approached Mazzetti's campground to address complaints that someone had been driving a vehicle too quickly through the campground and acting disrespectfully. The Rangers had information that those who had been driving too quickly and acting disrespectfully were all males. Mazzetti is a female. When the rangers approached the campsite, there was no indication of criminal behavior or disorderly conduct, and Mazzetti and her friends were calm.

Ranger Defendants Christopher Bellino (" Bellino" ) and David Sanchez (" Sanchez" ) rounded up Mazzetti and her friends around a picnic table, questioned the group about the conduct being investigated, told the group that they were not free to leave and threatened to use handcuffs. Within minutes, a male member of the group admitted to being the driver of the vehicle. Mazzetti advised the rangers that she had just walked up from the river, she had not been in the vehicle, and that she did not wish to participate in the investigation. The rangers ordered her to sit down. Bellino

Page 1265

then asked for identification, but when Mazzetti got up to go get her identification, she was grabbed by Bellino and Sanchez. Bellino threatened to handcuff Mazzetti, pulled a taser, and threatened to use the taser against her. The Rangers physically and verbally threatened Mazzetti to keep her from leaving the picnic area. The Rangers had no reasonable suspicion that Mazzetti had engaged in any criminal conduct, and the behavior that the rangers were investigating had ceased and was no longer a threat to anyone.

An audio-video recording of the incident made by a Ranger shows that Bellino conferenced with Bonner sometime after Bellino had threatened Mazzetti with a taser. It can be heard that Bellino described Mazzetti as " uncooperative," and when asked if he was going to arrest her, Bellino responded that he was going to do something but that he did not yet know what. Bonner asked if Mazzetti had since been cooperative, and Bellino said that she had been " cooperative since." Bellino and Bonner then agreed to arrest Mazzetti and take her to jail.

The Rangers reapproached Mazzetti and her friends, segregated Mazzetti, and walked her over near a Ranger's vehicle. Bellino, Bonner, and Ranger Hastings physically restrained and handcuffed Mazzetti. Mazzetti verbally protested being handcuffed and asked " why are you arresting me?", but she did not physically resist. Mazzetti was wearing shorts, a bathing suit top, and a loose fitting t-shirt that had its sleeves cut off. Hastings was sent back to watch the other members of Mazzetti's group at the campsite. Bellino then asked Bonner if there was a female ranger on duty, and Bonner responded that one would be on duty shortly. Bellino and Bonner then moved Mazzetti again. According to the video, these Rangers moved Mazzetti in order to " do a search behind the vehicle."

Mazzetti was walked to the other side of the Ranger's vehicle so that she was out of view from her friends. Bellino and Bonner then began to taunt and touch Mazzetti. They began poking in her hair with a pen-like object, and running their hands through her hair. Bellino then told Mazzetti, " I have to search your breasts." Mazzetti told them not to search her breasts and complained that the rangers were hurting her. Mazzetti was placed in a stress-hold, and Bellino and Bonner then groped Mazzetti's breasts. Mazzetti screamed for assistance and to make the Rangers stop; she also kept screaming " stop hurting me." Bellino told Mazzetti that he was going to search her groin area. Mazzetti was then taken to the ground. The video shows Bellino and Bonner grabbing Mazzetti's bare knees and prying her legs apart so that they could touch her groin. Mazzetti screamed in protest and pain. Bellino and Bonner removed Mazzetti's shoes, and then locked Mazzetti in the back of the vehicle. Mazzetti screamed to be released.

Rangers Bellino, Bonner, and Sanchez drafted false and misleading reports, failed to provide exculpatory information, and failed to identify witnesses who could support Mazzetti's version of events, even though the rangers had such information. Bellino recommended charging Mazzetti with violations of 36 C.F.R. 2.32(a)(1) (interference), 36 CFR 2.32(a)(2) (failing to obey a lawful order), 36 CFR 2.34(a)(2) (disorderly conduct), and 36 CFR 2.34(a)(3) (unreasonable noise). Based upon the rangers' reports, Mazzetti was charged with and prosecuted for violations of the above Class B misdemeanors.

A bench trial was conducted before Magistrate Judge Seng. Magistrate Judge Seng ruled that the ...

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