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Deputies Not Guilty in Tazer Incident

By Vanessa Turner: Calaveras County and two of its sheriff´s deputies were found not guilty last Thursday on allegations of unlawful arrest and excessive force.

Jeffrey Best Jr., 19, filed suit against the county and Deputies Jon Thompson and Dave Hooks in Fresno´s U.S. Eastern District Court in November 2003.

At the time of the incident, December 2002, Best was a minor attending special education classes at Calaveras High School.

While walking in Valley Springs, Best, who suffers from a tic disorder, said he was grabbed by Thompson and put in a headlock while Hooks tazered him multiple times.

According to Sheriff Dennis Downum, the deputies had just received a description of an arson suspect that matched Best.

The county´s defense said Thompson and Hooks had probable cause to arrest Best and used reasonable force when doing so.

A jury presiding over the trial last week agreed.

Thompson was actually dismissed from the case before it went to trial since he did not do the tazering.

The court found, “that the officers acted reasonably in arresting this young man,” Calaveras County Counsel Jim Jones said. “We´re pleased with the result.”

Michael Woods of Fresno represented the county while Ken Foley of San Andreas represented Best.

“I believe we proved that the officers unnecessarily escalated the amount of force being used but there was no permanent injury,” Foley said. “I think the jury was faced with balancing those factors and decided that there wasn´t sufficient evidence.”

Foley said his client was disappointed with the verdict.

When asked what his client wanted from the lawsuit, Foley said, “We were asking for a finding that the amount of force used was unreasonable. It really was not about money.”

Although Best suffered no permanent injury, he was tazered multiple times in the neck shoulder and back, which resulted in marks that healed up in about two weeks, Foley said.

A decision is yet to be made as to whether the county will file a motion for Best to pay for its legal fees.

“That potentially could happen,” Jones said. “We´ll see what the board wants to do (in the next few weeks), then make a decision whether we ask the court.”

Reprinted with permission from The Calaveras Enterprise

Contact Vanessa Turner at vturner@calaverasenterprise.com.