By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"They pulled in right behind me," he says of the cops. "They just wait for idiots like me to arrive drunk." Zilliott's options were jail time, house arrest, drug court, or an alcohol-monitoring device he would have to wear on his ankle. He chose the latter because he felt it would force him to remain sober.
"For people who really want to quit, it is a viable choice," he says. "But it's very expensive—$500 a month—and if you drink, they know it because it tests your perspiration every half-hour and sends the results to a monitor. If you drink, you go to jail."
* * *
Determined to kick his habit, Zilliott resolved to continue his regimen of daily runs at Treasure Island Beach. He'd been keeping to that schedule for several weeks and was walking on the sand below the Montage Resort & Spa when two beach-patrol officers—non-sworn civilian volunteers for the city of Laguna Beach armed with pepper spray and the power to write misdemeanor citations for things such as littering or illegally collecting shellfish—approached him at about noon on June 24, 2006, and asked him about the device on his ankle.
"I said, 'Did by any chance a Montage [guest] make the call?' and they said 'Yes, since you're asking,'" Zilliott says. "I was cooperative, and I answered all their questions and volunteered as much information as I could, but the conversation lasted a lot longer than it should have. I chose to walk away, and that's when this whole shit started."
According to police reports, the officers were told about Zilliott by a person on the beach who "was not comfortable with this male subject, not knowing if he was a sex registrant or under house arrest." The officers determined that the band on Zilliott's ankle was indeed an alcohol-monitoring device, but they nonetheless asked to see his identification, which he had left at home. The reports say Zilliott pushed one of the two officers after he grew angry with them for demanding to see his identification.
Zilliott denies this ever happened, but he admits that when he tried to walk away, he pushed a man he thought was a civilian interloper—a man who turned out to be a plainclothes beach-patrol supervisor and a sworn Laguna Beach police officer. "[The officer] assaulted me," he says. "He jumped right in my face and screamed, 'Show them your ID!' I was standing there in my bathing suit with my feet at the edge of the water and obviously didn't have an ID on me. I thought he was a redneck beach-goer. I didn't know he was a cop. I pushed him and said, 'Get the fuck out of my face!'"
At that point, Zilliott says, the supervisor instructed his men to pepper-spray Zilliott. "I was insane with pain," Zilliott says. "It was in my eyes, nose, ears, everywhere." Zilliott began waving his arms around trying to protect himself from the pepper spray. He waded into the ocean, leaned over and splashed water into his eyes.
That's when a Laguna Beach motorcycle cop walked up behind him and, according to both police reports and witness accounts, whacked him twice with a collapsible baton. The officer's report states that Zilliott was acting "aggressively . . . and in a threatening manner," that he "engaged Zilliott and struck him in the upper thigh/buttock area," at which point Zilliott "yelled in pain and took another step toward me."
The officer swung his baton again. "However, this strike struck Zilliott in the left hand as well. Almost immediately following the second baton strike, Zilliott became complied [sic] with orders to go to the ground." The blow fractured Zilliott's wrist and smashed several bones in his left hand. The officers wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and charged him with assault and battery on police officers and resisting arrest. Because of his injury, police didn't book Zilliott in jail, but rather called for an ambulance to take him to South Coast Medical Center, where he spent the next four days.
On June 5, 2007, Zilliott filed a federal civil-rights case against the city of Laguna Beach, alleging that the officers' use of pepper spray and the baton constituted excessive force. Neither attorney Dan Doyle, who filed the case on Zilliott's behalf, nor Matthew Richardson, a deputy city attorney for Laguna Beach, would comment for this story. Doyle dropped out of the case in January after a jury convicted Zilliott on Dec. 20, 2007, of two counts of simple battery and one count of resisting arrest. The jury believed his testimony that he didn't know the man he shoved was a cop, and found him not guilty of assaulting or battering a police officer.
Three witnesses also testified at Zilliott's two-day trial, including beach-goer Cheri Martocci. In an interview, Martocci said she was sitting 100 feet from Zilliott with her young daughter when she noticed he was wearing a device on his ankle. "I wasn't too worried about it, but other people, I guess, were, and so they alerted Montage security," she says. She watched the beach-patrol officers surround Zilliott and talk with him for several minutes. Martocci stopped paying attention, so she didn't see Zilliott shove anyone, but she did see the officers deploy their pepper spray.