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Godoy v. County of Sonoma

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 22, 2016

JOSE LUIS GODOY, et al., Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF SONOMA, et al., Defendants.


          WILLIAM H. ORRICK United States District Judge


         Plaintiffs Jose Luis Godoy, L.M., K.A., and J.C. allege that they were unlawfully detained and subject to excessive force by defendants County of Sonoma and Officers Dylan Fong, Dave Pedersen, and Matthew Lupton in retaliation for plaintiffs’ protests over the death of their friend, Andy Lopez. However, the undisputed facts establish that defendants detained plaintiffs as a result of a 911 call unrelated to the protests and did not use unreasonable force during the incident. I heard argument on defendants’ motions for summary judgment on July 6, 2016 and now GRANT defendants’ motion for summary judgment.


         Plaintiffs were part of a group called “Andy’s Youth, ” composed of Sonoma County residents that participated in protests over the killing of Andy Lopez. Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) ¶ 20 [Dkt. No. 72]. Id. Officer Fong was aware that individuals who were a part of “Andy’s Youth” were present at most of the rallies that occurred after Lopez’s death, although he did not know any particular members of that group. Fong Depo. at 35:12-17, 23-24.

         On January 9, 2014, a motorist reported that a Hispanic male driving a black Suburban with a partial license plate 5CY__ had brandished a silver firearm at the driver while traveling in the opposite direction. Freeman Decl., Exh. A at COS00029 [“Fong Incident Report”]. A “be on the lookout” (“BOLO”) was issued for a black Suburban with that partial plate. At approximately 5:30 pm, Deputy Lupton broadcasted that he had observed the vehicle but lost it. During the time the BOLO was in force, the Santa Rosa Police Department conducted a photo lineup for the victim. Freeman Decl., Exh. A at COS00004-25. The victim identified Godoy as the individual who had allegedly brandished the weapon. Id.

         That day Fong was partnered with Officer Ball. Fong Incident Report. They learned that Godoy had a black Chevy Suburban with a license plate that began with 5CY. Id. While on their way to an unrelated incident, the officers spotted the black Chevy Suburban parked on the wrong side of the street. Id. Fong observed a group of people walking away from the vehicle and recognized Godoy walking in the middle of the group. Id. Fong knew of Godoy from seeing him in the media and from his booking photographs. Fong Depo. at 21:24-22:3. Fong observed Godoy gesture with one arm as if he were attempting to alarm the vehicle. Fong Incident Report. He then observed the hazard lights flash on the parked car. Fong Incident Report; see also Dkt. No. 100, Exh. 11 (depicting plaintiffs gathering items from the parked car and the lights flashing on the vehicle as they walk away).[1]

         Fong determined at this point that Godoy and the other people present with him may have been the suspects related to the BOLO. Id. He illuminated them with his bright spot lamp, exited the vehicle, and yelled “get on the ground!” and “get on the f-ing ground!” Freeman Decl., Exh. D. 84:15-86:10; Exh. E 78:6-79:3. Ball also gave loud commands to get on the floor. Fong Incident Report. Fong called for back-up while the officers continued to hold the individuals on the ground until back-up arrived. Id. Back-up arrived within several minutes. Id. Meanwhile, a crowd of at least twenty bystanders gathered at the scene. L.M. Depo. at 49:12-21 [Dkt. Nos. 90, Exh. D; 92-5].

         I. GODOY’S DETENTION [2]

         Earlier that afternoon, plaintiffs had been making posters related to their protest activities. Immediately prior to the incident, L.M., J.C., K.A., and Godoy arrived at L.M.’s parents’ home. Godoy had just parked his car and was crossing the street when a patrol car pulled up with its two bright spot lights on. Godoy Depo. at 56:10-13, 21-25 [Dkt. Nos. 90, Exh. G; 92-6]. Within a couple of seconds of hearing the officers’ commands to get down, he laid down on the street, with the front half of his body behind a parked car. Id. at 60:17-22.

         After “a couple of minutes” on the ground he saw additional officers arrive. Id. at 64:19-21. He believes he was the first person from the group to get handcuffed. Id. at 68:16-18. He was approached by two officers, one who he thinks was Fong[3] and another unidentified officer. Id. at 69: 9-14. Godoy also observed the two officers carrying guns before his handcuffs were applied. Id. at 94:10-14. At the time of his handcuffing, Godoy had his arms out to his side. Id. at 86:4-6. One officer grabbed his wrist “hard” and put it behind his back and did the same with the other wrist. Id. at 89:12-16. Another officer, who Godoy “is going to say” was Fong, put his knee on Godoy’s back. Id. at 86:13-20. He felt pain in the middle of his back when the knee was place there, which he approximates lasted about 20 seconds. Id. at 90:16-91:7. One of the two officers involved in the handcuffing asked Godoy, “You think you’re tough now?” Id. at 84:19-85:1. Once he was handcuffed, he was turned over by the officers and placed on his back. Id. at 93:4-12. At some point while Godoy was handcuffed and on his back, Officer Fong placed his hand on Godoy’s chest right below his neck. Id. at 106:18-107:3.

         Lupton arrived on scene after Fong and Ball. Godoy recognized Lupton from previously seeing him “at court.” Id. at 98:15-99:6. Godoy remembers reading Lupton’s name badge during at least one prior interaction that happened in a courtroom. Id. at 100:10-17. Godoy testified that although the courtroom interaction primarily involved Lupton and a third party, Lupton’s “body expression, ” including the way he held his gun, made Godoy feel like he was antagonizing him. Id. at 102: 5-14. Godoy may have called Lupton a “bitch” during that encounter. Id. at 102:22-24.

         While Godoy was being handcuffed, he saw Lupton pointing his gun at him from about ten to fifteen feet away. Id. at 104:13-19. Lupton was standing behind a parked car, with only his upper body exposed. Id. at 105:21-106:11. Godoy’s deposition testimony concerning whether Lupton continued to point his gun at Godoy after he was handcuffed is inconclusive and inconsistent. When asked whether he ever saw guns pointed at him after he was ordered down on the ground, Godoy responded that he did not remember. Id. at 95:18-23. Four minutes later, however, when asked whether he saw any law enforcement officers point a gun at him after he was handcuffed, Godoy answered, “I’m going to say yes” and identified Lupton as someone who did so. Id. at 97:22-98:10. But shortly thereafter, when Godoy was asked whether he ever saw Lupton after he pointed his gun at Godoy from behind the parked car, which occurred while Godoy was being handcuffed, Godoy said that he “just [didn’t] remember.” Id. at 106:9-17.

         After Godoy was handcuffed, he walked towards the squad car with the officers “dragging” him. Id. at 109:1-5. They then “placed” or “slammed” him on the trunk of the car and searched him by patting him down and taking everything out of his pockets. Id. at 110:5-22. After he was searched he was instructed to sit in the squad car, by placing one foot in at a time. Id. at 114:10-14. Because he did not do so fast enough he was “shoved” in. Id. As a result of this shove, he hit his head on the door frame. Id. at 122:20-123:4.

         Once in the patrol car, Godoy told the officers he needed an ambulance because of his thyroid condition, which raises his blood pressure and makes his heart race in stressful conditions. Id. at 115:2-116:4. An ambulance arrived and the medical personnel checked him and told him he was okay. Id. at 117:12-19. He did not tell medical personal about any pain or injuries stemming from his detention. Id. at 123:5-7.

         II. L.M.’S DETENTION

         When L.M. first got out of the car, she did not see any law enforcement vehicles. L.M. Depo. at 87:7-89:15 [Dkt. Nos. 90, Exh. D; 92-5]. L.M. walked to her parents’ home and then after about a minute, she walked back to where the Suburban had been parked. About a minute after that, a patrol vehicle pulled up with its spotlights on. Because the bright lights were pointed at her, she could not see the officers clearly and was not sure what was going on. Id. at 84:15-25. When she was first ordered to put her hands up she thought somebody was just “playing around.” Id. at 85:12-15. But after hearing the command repeated and hearing Godoy’s instruction to do so, she lay on her stomach with hands behind her head. Id. at 89:6-10. Once on the ground, she could see that two officers were pointing guns at them. Id. at 85:17-20. She also remembers seeing “a lot of people, ” at least twenty, on the street during the incident. Id. at 49:12-21.

         Once on the ground, an officer came to search her bag. Id. at 89:16-90:6. Later Lupton, whom she had seen on an earlier occasion, handcuffed her. Id. 92:21-94:2; Mendoza Decl. ¶ 4 [Dkt. No. 93]. He did so by taking her right hand from the back of her head to behind her back and doing the same with her left hand. Id. at 91:2-18. At first Lupton put on one set of cuffs, but it was too tight for her so he put on two. Id. at 97:16-98:1. Instead of having both arms in one set, she had one arm in one set and the other arm in another set and the sets were connected together in the middle. Id. at 97:16-20. Lupton then instructed her how to get up and she did so on her own. Id. at 98:5-99:10. Once she was standing, another officer walked her over to a patrol car and instructed her to stand near the bumper. Id. at 99:3-10. She told an officer nearby that her handcuffs were too tight and the officer loosened them for her. Id. at 102:17-24. She was required to wait near the bumper of the patrol car for “more than 30 minutes.” Id. at 111:18-22.

         At some time later, Officer Pederson, whom L.M. recognized because he was her brother’s parole officer and she had seen him at a protest, approached her. Id. at 104:16-105:7. He took photographs of her, asked for her name and address, and told her he was going to put her in the gang “system.” Id. at 106:21-107:2.

         Following the incident, L.M. saw a doctor somewhere between four and ten times for back pain on her right side. Id. at 57:19-25, 59:21-60:2.

         III. K.A.’S DETENTION

         K.A. was walking to L.M.’s house when the patrol car arrived. K.A. Depo. at 78:4-10 [Dkt. Nos. 90, Exh. E; 92-8]. K.A. heard multiple commands to get on the floor. Id. at 78:22-79:18. Because of the bright light being shined in her direction, she could not see the officers or what they were doing at that time. Id. at 82:8-13. From her experience watching cop shows, she knew that the right thing to do at that moment was to lay down on her stomach, which she ...

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