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Jaramillo v. City of San Mateo

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

December 19, 2014


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For Jose Antonio Aguilar Jaramillo, Plaintiff: Mark Walter Hostetter, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Mark W. Hostetter, San Jose, CA; Nathan Menta Zaslow, Law Oiffice of Nathan Zaslow, San Jose, CA.

For City of San Mateo a municipal corporation, Officer Amanda Fiore individually and in her official capacity as a San Mateo police officer, Officer Amanda Fiore individually and in her official capacity as a San Mateo police officer, Officer Scott Valencia individually and in his official capacity as a San Mateo police officer, Antonio Montojo, Defendants: Jeffrey Michael Vucinich, LEAD ATTORNEY, Clapp Moroney Bellagamba Vucinich Beeman & Scheley, San Bruno, CA; Ethanluke M Lowry, Bertrand, Fox and Elliot, San Francisco, CA.

For Michael Leishman, Defendant: Jeffrey Michael Vucinich, LEAD ATTORNEY, Clapp Moroney Bellagamba Vucinich Beeman & Scheley, San Bruno, CA.

For Department of Homeland Security: Erica Blachman Hitchings, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, San Francisco, CA.

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Nathanael M. Cousins, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jose Antonio Aguilar Jaramillo alleges that three San Mateo police officers assaulted him while he was on his way to a taqueria. He contends the officers struck him in the head, threw him down onto the sidewalk, and broke one of his ribs with a " knee-strike." The officers contend that they exercised reasonable force. They approached Jaramillo after they observed him in a " high-crime area" in a parked car with an expired registration. According to the officers, Jaramillo had his hand in his pocket and refused to comply with their order to remove his hand. Instead, he walked away from them. From their perspective, Jaramillo could have been hiding a weapon in his pocket. The officers argue that the force they used on Jaramillo was therefore reasonable to ensure safety. Jaramillo was arrested for obstructing an investigation, and later released.

Jaramillo sued the officers and the City of San Mateo, alleging that the officers exercised excessive force in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and various state law claims. Those officers now move for summary

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judgment. The City also seeks summary judgment as to Jaramillo's Monell and state law claims.

In evaluating a summary judgment motion, " [t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). For that reason, and because genuine issues of material fact still exist, the Court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part defendants' motion for summary judgment.


A. Facts

The following relevant facts come primarily from Jaramillo's declaration, Jaramillo's deposition testimony, the declaration of eyewitness Jason Rojas, and the deposition testimony of the three officers. See Dkt. Nos. 62-1 (Von Glahn Deposition); 62-2 (Montojo Deposition); 62-3 (Leishman Deposition); 62-4 (Jaramillo Deposition); 65 (Jaramillo Declaration); 66 (Rojas Declaration).

i. Events Leading up to Encounter Between Jaramillo and the Officers

a. Jaramillo's Account

According to Jaramillo, on March 13, 2012, shortly after 8:00 p.m., he drove to restaurant Las Palomas Taqueria, located on East 3rd Avenue in the City of San Mateo. Dkt. No. 23 at ¶ 6. He parked his car near the front of the restaurant, and, before exiting, turned around to reach into the backseat to search through his backpack. Dkt. No. 65 at ¶ 3. Jaramillo stated he was looking for an envelope, where he wanted to place money that he intended to hand to someone inside the restaurant. Id. At the time, Jaramillo carried approximately $2,800 in cash in his wallet. Dkt. No. 62-4 at 3-4.

b. Defendant City of San Mateo Officers' Account

On March 13, 2012, Officers Amanda Von Glahn (formerly Amanda Fiore), Antonio Montojo, and Michael Leishman of the San Mateo Police Department were patrolling the area surrounding the taqueria together in an unmarked police SUV. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 5; 622 at 4, 7. All of the officers were also members of the Special Investigations Bureau, a narcotics unit that investigated drug-related crimes. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 3-4. According to defendants, the area surrounding the restaurant--which the officers characterized as a " high-crime area" --included a smoke shop and adult bookstore; in the past, the officers claimed to have made several narcotics-related arrests in front of these businesses. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 6-7, 25; 62-2 at 8; 63-3 at 19.

At approximately 8:00 p.m., the officers drove down East 3rd Avenue, and noticed Jaramillo in the driver seat of his parked vehicle looking down. Dkt. No. 62-2 at 3, 5-6. Montojo testified that Jaramillo's car was parked directly in front of the adult bookstore. Id. at 5. Von Glahn testified that they conducted a license plate check of Jaramillo's car by providing the plate number to police dispatch. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 9-14. The officers learned that the vehicle registration had expired. Id. Jaramillo later stated that the vehicle registration had indeed expired five days earlier on March 8. Dkt. No. 65 at 2. After learning this information, Von Glahn testified that she and Leishman exited the patrol vehicle to make contact with Jaramillo concerning the expired registration. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 12-13. Montojo stayed

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behind initially to park the police truck. Dkt. No. 62-2 at 7.

ii. Encounter Between Jaramillo and Officers

a. Jaramillo's Account

According to Jaramillo, he got out of his car after he could not find the envelope in his backpack. Dkt. No. 65 at ¶ 3. He started to walk toward the rear of the car with the intention of stepping onto the sidewalk to enter the taqueria. Id. at ¶ 4. Jaramillo stated that before even getting to the sidewalk, a " woman appeared on the street dressed in street clothes, a sweatshirt." Id. He later found out this woman was Von Glahn. Id. According to Jaramillo, Von Glahn said " police officer" and " flashed something hanging from her neck very quickly and then put it back insider her sweatshirt." Id. Jaramillo stated that it looked like " some type of badge . . . ." Id. Von Glahn asked him if the car belonged to him and Jaramillo replied yes. Id. Von Glahn asked him for identification. Id. Jaramillo stated that he then tried to reach into his pocket for his wallet, but was told by Von Glahn to keep his hand out of his pocket. Id. Jaramillo tried again to reach into his pocket for his identification, but Von Glahn once more told him not to do so. Id. Von Glahn then informed him that his registration was not val Id. Id. Jaramillo replied that he thought it was valid through March. Id.

According to Jaramillo, he doubted whether Von Glahn was a real police officer. Id. at ¶ 5. Jaramillo explained he did not believe she or the other officers were real police officers until after he was eventually handcuffed; he had heard on a Spanish news channel that criminals were pretending to be police officers in order to steal from people. Dkt. No. 62-4 at 16, 18. Fearful for his safety, Jaramillo testified that he turned away from Von Glahn and started to walk towards the restaurant. Dkt. No. 62-4 at 10. As he approached the restaurant, Jaramillo stated that Von Glahn grabbed his jacket while Leishman (" wearing a loose sweater" ) grabbed him from his right side, and Montojo (dressed in " street clothes" ) came from his left side. Dkt. No. 65 at ¶ 6. After Montojo came from the left, Jaramillo stated he " felt a blow to my left ear." Id. He explained that he was then taken down onto the ground face down against the sidewalk. Id. Subsequently, Jaramillo said he felt blows to his ribs from Montojo, and that Leishman was on top of his neck holding him down while Von Glahn was on top of him putting his arms behind his back. Id. at ¶ 7. Jaramillo stated that he shouted for help; he explained that he still did not believe at that point that Von Glahn, Montojo, and Leishman were real police officers. Id. The officers then placed Jaramillo in handcuffs and sat him against the wall of the taqueria. Id. at ¶ 9.

Throughout the entire encounter with the officers, Jaramillo maintains that he never had either of his hands in his pockets. Id. at ¶ 8.

b. Rojas' Account

Jason Rojas, a restaurant patron, was at the restaurant the night Jaramillo was arrested. Dkt. No. 66. According to Rojas, he was eating with his girlfriend at a table adjacent to Jaramillo's parking spot when he noticed a " large man" approaching Jaramillo from behind. Id. at 5. He claimed to have seen Jaramillo walk towards the entrance to the restaurant and observed that Jaramillo did not have his hands in his pockets. Id. at 6.

c. The Officers' Account

Upon exiting the police vehicle, Von Glahn asserts that she removed her police badge from her shirt and placed it on her chest. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 17. Von Glahn

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then proceeded to approach Jaramillo from the driver-side of Jaramillo's car while Leishman walked along the sidewalk on the car's passenger side. Id. at 17-20; Dkt. No. 62-3 at 5. According to Von Glahn and Leishman, Jaramillo stood outside of his vehicle on the street, with the driver-side, rear door open, rummaging through his backpack on the back seat. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 18; 62-3 at 6. Von Glahn testified that she walked up to Jaramillo, and identified herself as a police officer. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 18-19. According to Von Glahn, she showed Jaramillo her badge, asked about his expired registration, and requested to see his identification. Id. Von Glahn testified that Jaramillo initially answered her questions about the car, but failed to respond when asked about his identification. Id.

That's when Von Glahn claimed Jaramillo placed his left hand inside his left jacket pocket. Id. at 20. According to Von Glahn, though she asked Jaramillo to remove his hand from his pocket, he did not do so. Id. Von Glahn testified to noticing something " bulky" in Jaramillo's pocket. Id. In an attempt to identify what he was reaching for with his left hand, Von Glahn asked Jaramillo where he kept his wallet. Id. at 21. Again, according to Von Glahn, Jaramillo said nothing. Id. Unsure about what Jaramillo had in his left pocket, Von Glahn testified that she asked him to take his hand out of his pocket. Id.

During this time, Leishman testified that he had been standing on the sidewalk, and approached Von Glahn and Jaramillo on the street, advising them to move over to the sidewalk to avoid traffic. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 23-24; 62-3 at 7-8. Meanwhile, Montojo testified that he approached Jaramillo's vehicle to join Leishman and Von Glahn. Dkt. No. 62-2 at 10. According to Leishman, he also asked Jaramillo to remove his hand from his pocket, out of concern that Jaramillo was concealing a weapon. Dkt. No. 62-3 at 7-8. Leishman acknowledged that even though Jaramillo did not take his hand out of his pocket, Jaramillo did move to the sidewalk from the street. Id. Leishman observed that Jaramillo initially moved at a " normal pace" and stepped onto the sidewalk, but then " turned his body" at " an angle almost as if bladed, like a bladed stance." Id. at 9.

According to Von Glahn, Jaramillo began to turn his left side away from her once he got on the sidewalk. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 53. This concerned her since Jaramillo's hand still remained in his front pocket and his turning his body caused her to start losing view of the pocketed hand. Id. Von Glahn testified that Jaramillo then started to " contort his body" and walk backwards or sideways away from her towards the restaurant. Id. at 26-27; Dkt. No. 62-2 at 11-12. Montojo testified that Jaramillo eventually turned around to face the direction he was walking and broke into a jog. Dkt No. 62-2 at 44. Leishman recalled that Von Glahn told Jaramillo to stop and take his hand out of his pocket. Dkt. No. 62-3 at 10.

In an attempt to slow down Jaramillo, the officers testified that Von Glahn took hold of Jaramillo's right elbow and arm. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 27; 62-2 at 12; 62-3 at 10. Von Glahn testified that Jaramillo " jerked his right arm away" from her, and that Montojo and Leishman quickly came to assist after she called out that Jaramillo had something in his left pocket. Dkt. No. 62-1 at 27. According to all three of the officers, Jaramillo resisted efforts by Leishman and Montojo to pull his hands out of his pockets by tensing and locking his arms. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 28-29; 62-2 at 13; 62-3 at 11-13.

According to Montojo, because the officers were unable to pull Jaramillo's left

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hand out of his pocket, they " forcibly pushed Jaramillo down to the ground on his stomach," Dkt. No. 62-2 at 13, though Von Glahn herself does not recall if she also pushed Jaramillo down or if she " kind of went down with everybody. . . ," Dkt. No. 62-1 at 29. Von Glahn testified that once Jaramillo lay on the ground, face first, she gained better control of Jaramillo's right hand and placed it behind his back. Id. Montojo testified that he then applied a left knee strike to Jaramillo's left rib cage or abdomen area to get Jaramillo's left arm free. Dkt. No. 62-2 at 17, 19. According to Montojo, he was trained both in the police academy and by the police department in the " defensive tactics course" to use such a knee strike in these types of situations. Dkt. No. 62-2 at 18. Montojo explained that he applied this type of force because of the uncertainty over whether Jaramillo had a gun or knife in his pocket that he could use against the officers. Id. at 20.

Von Glahn and Leishman testified that once Jaramillo's left hand got free, the officers placed Jaramillo in handcuffs and arrested him for obstructing an officer investigation. Dkt. Nos. 62-1 at 29; 62-3 at 15. The officers observed that upon removal, Jaramillo's left fist was clenched but no weapons were found on him or in his jacket. Dkt. No. 62-3 at 15-16.

iii. Events After Alleged Excessive Force

a. Jaramillo's Account

According to Jaramillo, the officers placed him in handcuffs and sat him against the wall of the restaurant. Id. at ¶ 9. Montojo then took off his shoes, shook them, looked at the sidewalk, and asked Jaramillo " where [he] had thrown it." Id. Jaramillo said he did not answer because he did not know what Montojo was referring to. Id. Jaramillo stated that the officers made no attempt to speak to him in Spanish that night, not even at the police station where he was later questioned. Id. at ¶ 10. Jaramillo said he did not understand much of what they asked him in English during the questioning. Id.

After his release from jail, Jaramillo said he went to the hospital for injuries sustained during the arrest, and was diagnosed with a broken rib. Id. at 4.

b. The Officers' Account

According to Leishman, the officers sat Jaramillo up after the arrest and asked Jaramillo if he was okay. Dkt. No. 62-3 at 16. Leishman testified that he checked for any visible wounds or injuries. Id. According to Von Glahn, Jaramillo was then taken to the San Mateo Police Department, where she and other officers ...

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