Deputy Pepper-Sprays, Beats Man with Down Syndrome: Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed against the county seeks an apology and policy changes

By Andie Adams
|  Saturday, May 3, 2014  |  Updated 10:42 AM PDT
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Deputy Pepper-Sprays, Beats Man with Down Syndrome: Lawsuit

 A San Diego family wants an apology and significant changes at the San Diego Sheriff’s Department after a deputy allegedly pepper-sprayed, beat and arrested a family member with Down syndrome without probable cause.

According to a lawsuit filed Thursday against the County of San Diego, Deputy Jeffrey Guy and 20 other unnamed defendants, the incident took place on Dec. 18, 2012 in Vista.

Antonio “Tony” Martinez -- a 21-year-old adult with Down syndrome -- was walking from his parent’s house to the family’s bakery to help his sisters clean and close up for the night.

The complaint says Deputy Jeffrey Guy pulled alongside him and in his patrol car began yelling at Martinez.

Martinez continued to walk toward the bakery, so Guy pulled his car across the sidewalk in front of him. When Martinez didn’t stop, the complaint alleges that Guy jumped out of his car, ran into Martinez’s path and sprayed pepper spray in his face and eyes, without provocation.

As Martinez rubbed his eyes and began to scream, Guy yelled at him to get on the ground and started “beating him with his collapsible baton which contains a weighted tip,” according to the complaint.

Guy is also accused of hitting Martinez in the head and kicking him after he fell to the pavement.

The complaint says at this point, a crowd had gathered. Onlookers recognized the pedestrian “with the blood streaked face,” and yelled to the deputy that Martinez had Down syndrome, the lawsuit says.

Someone told Martinez’s younger sisters, who were inside the bakery, what was happening. They ran up just as Guy and a second deputy allegedly pushed their knees into Martinez’s back to handcuff him.

When Martinez's older sister yelled that her brother had Down syndrome and pleaded with the deputies to let him go, they ordered her to stay away, and they loaded him into the back of the patrol car.

THE "BOGUS" ARREST

Martinez was booked into Vista jail and issued a citation for interfering with a peace officer – a violation which the lawsuit calls “bogus.”

After an hour behind bars, deputies took Martinez to a nearby hospital for x-rays. Doctors examined his injuries from the alleged beating.

The complaint says Martinez suffered “facial abrasions to his nose and over his eye, and leg, arm and back pain with contusions.”

Martinez was then taken back to jail. He was questioned, a court date was set, and the 21-year-old was released to his father.

The lawsuit claims from the beginning of the incident, the deputies had no warrant for Martinez’s arrest or “other facts or information that constituted probable cause that [the] plaintiff has ever committed or was about to commit a crime, so as to provide grounds for a lawful arrest."

Additionally, the complaint says it is sheriff’s department policy to only detain someone if the officer had reasonable suspicion or probable cause that the person committed or is about to commit a crime.

If a deputy asks someone to stop without having reasonable suspicion and he or she refuses, the officer must not use any force to stop the person, according to the complaint.

THE LAWSUIT’S DEMANDS

Since 2012, the Martinez family has continually asked that Guy and the department admit their wrong-doing and apologize, according to Martinez’s attorney Jude Basile.

The family also wants Guy to volunteer to work with people with Down syndrome and for the department to provide policies and procedures on how to deal with people with mental disabilities.

The complaint alleges that the department has no such policies in place, but the sheriff’s department has confirmed to NBC 7 that all deputies are trained to deal with suspects who have mental illness or mental/psychological illness or handicaps.

Since the family members first filed claims with the county in April 2013, they have participated in the sheriff’s department’s internal affairs investigation into the incident and attended mediation with the county to try to settle the case, but the department has refused to issue an apology, according to Basile.

“The Martinez family has been forced to proceed with filing this lawsuit in order to try to bring about positive change for all people of San Diego,” reads a statement from Basile.

The lawsuit also seeks monetary compensation for Martinez’s healthcare and medical expenses, attorney fees, and deputy-training costs.

Martinez also allegedly suffered non-economic damages, including physical pain, loss of enjoyment of life, nervousness, anxiety and shock.

His two sisters are also claiming damages for severe emotional distress due to the actions of the deputies against their brother.

The monetary worth of the damages will be determined if the case goes to trial, the lawsuit says.

NBC 7 asked the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for a response to the claims and was referred to the county’s counsel.

County spokeswoman Sarah Gordon said the county does not comment on pending litigation.

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