Cops fume with good reason if a baby or an animal is stuck in a vehicle without ventilation on a hot day. Experts report infants can die in as soon as 20 minutes under such circumstances. But a man claims that two Southern California police officers tortured him in a similar way in July 2016.
According to Douglas Hardin, the Garden Grove Police Department cops handcuffed him so tightly they cut and sprained his wrists, placed a mesh hood over his head, locked him in the back of a patrol car with the windows closed while the day’s temperatures headed toward triple digits and ignored his pleas for help.
“The force used against the plaintiff following his arrest was not reasonable under the circumstances,” the lawsuit against officers Chasen Contreras and Lino Santana states. “[The officers] used the handcuffs as a weapon of police brutality. . . The decision to leave the plaintiff in the police car while parked outside the police station with no air ventilation, sitting in the sun and handcuffs cutting his wrists is, in fact, excessive force.”
Though police abuse cases aren’t rare in Southern California, it’s exceptionally unusual for a non-lawyer plaintiff who is representing himself from prison—like Hardin, who was convicted of residential burglary after the incident—to score a courthouse victory over the likes of Lois Bobak and Caroline A. Byrne at Woodruff, Spradling & Smart, a Costa Mesa-based law firm with a long list of accomplishments defending government entities.
But, incredibly, that’s exactly what happened in September inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse when Hardin tentatively overcame the law firm’s efforts to kill the lawsuit before it can reach a future jury in Los Angeles, a place where juries are less hospitable to alleged police mischief than Orange County.
Bobak an Byrne mocked the legitimacy of the tight handcuff issue with U.S. Magistrate Judge John E. McDermott, arguing that Hardin’s wrists hadn’t been broken and, therefore, that complaint should not be a triable issue for a jury to determine. They also asserted that the cops reasonably feared that the suspect, who was uncooperative and self-abusive after his arrest, might harm himself or them if they loosened the cuffs. As is customary, the lawyers asserted that Contreras and Santana should enjoy immunity for their conduct because they are cops.
“Excessively tight handcuffing can constitute excessive force,” they observed. “But only if the evidence demonstrates that it was objectively unreasonable not to remove or loosen tighten handcuffs.”
McDermott accepted some of the defendants’ legal assertions—including that the officers, who were apparently peeved Hardin had displayed contempt for them, hadn’t delayed medical attention to an extent that violated his constitutional rights. But McDermott didn’t buy the cops’ rationale for ending the case before trial. For him, the refusal of the officers to loosen the handcuffs can’t be ignored and deserves jury consideration.
“At the time of the plaintiff’s arrest, it was clearly established in the Ninth Circuit that keeping an individual in tight and painful handcuffs may violate the Fourth Amendment when the individual complains the handcuffs are too tight and requests officers to loosen them,” McDermott wrote in a Report and Recommendation.
However, the magistrate judge found that locking this drenched suspect in the scorching space and ignoring his cries for approximately a half hour should be dismissed. “In general, courts have found that confinement in a hot police vehicle amounted to excessive force when the exposure was prolonged and have found that force was not excessive when the confinement lasted 30 minutes or less,” McDermott observed.
The cops are hoping U.S. District Court Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, who presides, will overrule McDermott in coming weeks and order the entire case dismissed before a trial.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.