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Calaveras County Being Sued For Alleged Police Brutality

County being sued for police brutality

By Vanessa Turner

Jeffrey Best Jr., 19, who suffers from a tic disorder, is suing Calaveras County and two of its deputies for tazering him excessively while unlawfully arresting him in December of 2002.

At the time of the incident, Best was a minor attending special education classes at Calaveras High School.

It was winter break and Best was walking across the parking lot of the shopping center in Valley Springs. Deputies Jon Thompson and Dave Hooks had just received a description of an arson suspect that matched Best, Sheriff Dennis Downum said.

“The officers did what I believe to be a very appropriate action to determine whether or not this guy was an arson suspect,” Downum said.

But according to documents obtained from the U.S. Eastern District Court in Fresno, where the lawsuit was filed, Best was grabbed by Thompson and put in a headlock while Hooks tazered him multiple times.

“Apparently he was uncooperative and tried to run away,” Downum said.

Best´s disability is called chronic motor tic disorder, characterized by rapid, uncontrollable bursts of activity or movement of the arms and legs. The tics can get worse during emotional stress.

“No reasonable law enforcement officer could have believed that such conduct was justified since (Best) was not on drugs and any failure to communicate clearly was do to his disabilities,” court documents said.

Best was hospitalized for his tazer injuries and tested negative for drugs.

The lawsuit was filed by Best´s attorney Kenneth Foley of San Andreas on Nov. 10, 2003. But before taking the matter to court, Foley submitted a claim for damages to the Board of Supervisors in June 2003, which was unanimously rejected, leaving him with six months to take action in court.

The county denies any wrongdoing and has since hired attorney Michael Woods of McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte and Carruth of Fresno for its defense.

In an answer to Best´s complaint, the county said, Thompson and Hooks had probable cause to arrest Best and used reasonable force when doing so. It also said Best´s conduct caused and contributed to his injuries.

Downum said Thompson and Hooks are still on the force and no disciplinary action has been taken against them.

“I don´t know every detail and I suppose that will come to light in the case,” Downum said. “I guess we´ll just have to wait and see if the courts see if they acted appropriately. Quite frankly, I believe they did.”

Foley and Best could not be reached for comments as of press time.

A hearing was held Friday considering a motion to designate an expert witness.

District Judge Dennis Beck will preside over a pretrial conference at 1:30 p.m., May 20 in Fresno.

Reprinted With Permission from Calaveras Enterprise

Contact Vanessa Turner at vturner@calaverasenterprise.com.