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Paulino v. Cruz

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 7, 2017



          NATHANAEL M. COUSINS United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Eliel Paulino claims that San Jose Police Officers Marco Cruz, Gerardo Silva, and Gurbaksh Sohal violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and various state laws when they arrested Paulino by taking him to the ground and striking him with batons. The defendant officers moved for summary judgment on all of Paulino's claims, arguing that the force they used was reasonable as a matter of law and that qualified immunity shields them from liability. Fatal to defendants' motion, however, the material facts of the case are far from undisputed. Most importantly, the parties dispute whether Paulino took a “preassaultive” stance and actively resisted Officer Cruz's initial attempt at arrest by withdrawing his arm, and whether Paulino intentionally withheld his right arm from the officers to avoid being handcuffed when he was on the ground. Because a reasonable jury could find for either party on these factual issues, summary judgment must be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 16, 2015, around 2:00 a.m., Officers Sohal and Silva were on patrol in a two-man vehicle near Cadillac Drive and Winchester Street in San Jose. Dkt. No. 49-2 at 9-11. Defendants claim they knew this area was frequented by gang members and often had drug-related crime. Dkt. No. 49-3 at 8-9. The officers spotted Paulino's vehicle and initiated a stop because the rear license plate light was not functioning. Dkt. Nos. 49-2 at 12, 49-3 at 8. Paulino drove into a parking lot behind an apartment complex at 3137 Cadillac Drive and pulled into a parking space, with Officers Sohal and Silva following behind in the patrol car. Dkt. No. 49-2 at 13.

         A video[1] captures the remainder of the incident, beginning with Paulino and the two officers entering the parking lot. Dkt. No. 50 (“Video”). The video is visible, albeit dark, but no sound is audible.

         Once Paulino parked, Officer Silva instructed Paulino to stay in his vehicle while Officer Sohal searched the parking lot for other possible suspects. Dkt. No. 49-2 at 17. Paulino complied with the order. Dkt. No. 49-2 at 17. When Officer Sohal returned, Officer Silva instructed Paulino to exit his vehicle and approach the officers, which he did. Dkt. No. 49-2 at 17-18. Officer Silva asked Paulino, in Spanish, whether he was drunk, and Paulino told him he was. Dkt. No. 49-4 at 24. The officers asked for identification, and Paulino gave them his Mexican Consulate card. Dkt. No. 49-4 at 24-25. Officer Sohal then pat searched Paulino, who was cooperative, and found no weapons. Dkt. No. 49-3 at 13-14. Shortly thereafter, Officer Cruz arrived on scene. Video at 5:30. Officer Cruz stood next to Paulino, who was leaning on the patrol vehicle's front panel, while Officer Sohal searched Paulino's vehicle and Officer Silva ran Paulino's information in the patrol vehicle computer. Video at 6:55-7:30; Dkt. No. 49-3 at 16-17.

         During these events, a man later identified as Paulino's father, Jose Luis Paulino Norberto, was talking and yelling from a window in the nearby apartment building. Dkt. No. 49-3 at 18, 53. Paulino began talking with his father in Spanish, which Officer Cruz does not understand. Dkt. No. 49-3 at 56-58. Officer Cruz instructed Paulino to stop talking, but Paulino continued speaking to his father in Spanish. Dkt. Nos. 49-3 at 57-58, 49-4 at 31-32.

         The parties disagree on the details of what happened next, but the video shows the following. Officer Cruz walks closer to Paulino and reaches for Paulino's arm, seemingly in an attempt to handcuff him. Officer Cruz does not immediately get the handcuffs on and continues to grab at Paulino's arms, and both men stumble back along the patrol car toward the front passenger door, which sits ajar. The other two officers quickly move to the scene. Paulino hits the passenger door with his body and nearly falls, at which point Officer Silva jabs Paulino with a baton. Officer Silva steps away from the struggle as Officers Cruz and Sohal work to bring Paulino to the ground. Paulino winds up on the ground with Officer Cruz on top of him. The video is too dark to ascertain many more details, but while Paulino is on the ground, Officer Sohal strikes Paulino with his baton several times, pausing occasionally and reaching down toward Paulino. Officer Silva returns to the struggle, and the three officers restrain Paulino. Video at 8:55-10:20.

         Defendants assert that before Officer Cruz initially tried to handcuff Paulino, Paulino took a “preassaultive” stance and clenched his fists. Dkt. No. 49 at 11. When Officer Cruz reached for Paulino's arm, defendants claim Paulino drew back and prevented his arm from being handcuffed. Dkt. No. 49 at 11. They also assert that, even if Paulino did not intend to resist Cruz's efforts at arrest, Paulino's body weight falling away from Officer Cruz gave the impression of resistance. Dkt. No. 49 at 11. After bringing Paulino to the ground, defendants allege Officer Cruz “placed his left shin across Plaintiff's back to keep him from getting up” while Officer Sohal attempted to gain control of Paulino's right arm. Dkt. No. 49 at 13. According to defendants, Paulino actively prevented Officer Sohal from accessing his right arm by keeping it underneath his body, and Officer Sohal responded by striking Paulino with his baton to induce Paulino's cooperation. Eventually, defendants claim, Paulino relented by saying “okay, okay” and giving up his arm. Dkt. No. 49 at 13.

         Paulino offers a different version of the facts. According to him, he did not resist Officer Cruz's initial attempt to handcuff him, and he fell backward inadvertently because his feet were tangled and he lost his balance. Dkt. No. 53 at 9. After stumbling backward and hitting the patrol car's front passenger door, Paulino claims he was “thrown to the ground” and landed face down before Officer Sohal “arrived and put his knee on [Paulino's] back and hit him very hard with the baton.” Dkt. No. 53 at 9. Paulino contends that he was unable to free his right arm because it was pinned beneath his body and that once he said, “no problem, ” the officers stopped hitting him. Dkt. No. 53 at 10. He asserts that at no time did he “challenge, resist, fight, or threaten the officers.” Dkt. No. 53 at 10.

         Paulino filed this action against the defendant officers on May 17, 2016, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims for battery, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Dkt. No. 1. Paulino filed an amended complaint adding a claim under California Civil Code § 52.1. Dkt. No. 28. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims, Dkt. No. 49, and Paulino opposed the motion. Dkt. No. 53. All parties consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge. Dkt. Nos. 11, 19.


         Summary judgment may be granted only when, drawing all inferences and resolving all doubts in favor of the nonmoving party, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Reasonable factual inferences must be construed in favor of the non-moving party, and summary judgment should not be granted if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Because police misconduct cases frequently involve “disputed factual contentions” and “almost always turn on credibility determinations, ” the Ninth Circuit has “held on many occasions that summary judgment . . . in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.” Drummond v. City of Anaheim, 343 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); see also Liston v. Cty of Riverside, 120 ...

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