Lawsuits against city not uncommon
Complaints can trigger internal investigations
Pleasanton police Chief Dave Spiller confirms there is an internal investigation into actions of a K-9 officer, but such investigations, which spring from claims filed with the city, are apparently not unusual.
"There is an administrative investigation. I am conducting an investigation on allegations asserted in the claim," said Spiller, adding that he is prohibited from speaking about specifics of the investigation. Spiller noted that the police officers' bill of rights, POBAR, "only allows disclosures at the conclusion of an investigation if discipline was advised."
Claims against police -- the precursors to lawsuits -- are relatively common, according to Pleasanton City Attorney Jonathan Lowell.
"I'd say that we get maybe one or two claims a year related to the Police Department," he said.
Lowell explained that internal investigations are triggered by the filing of a citizen complaint or when the Police Department becomes aware of a potential violation of departmental policy, city policy, or state or federal law.
He said anyone can take legal action against the city or threaten to take it.
"Under our system of government, anyone may file a claim, file a complaint and file a lawsuit," he said.
K-9 Officer Tim Martens is named in one of two current claims against the city. In that claim, Brian Lancaster is asking for in excess of $1 million on allegations that Martens and other unknown officers "improperly obtained confidential information, improperly used and disclosed false and confidential information and made illegal search, seizure and arrest based on use of improperly obtained information and falsified evidence."
Five charges against Lancaster, including possession of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia, were dismissed last week for lack of evidence, according to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.
But Pleasanton's police officers are also named in a claim filed by Occupy Oakland, which claims they were part of an attack on a group of 500 to 1,000 protesters. Pleasanton police were called to the protest as part of a mutual aid agreement.
Martens was specifically named in a claim filed by a neighbor on Sept. 13, 2011. In the claim, Jeffrey Harlan asks for $2.16 million and says Martens and other officers "derived us of our civil rights, they have illegally searched my home, videotaped our activities and threatened us and eventually arrested me when I called for help."
Harlan claimed he suffered from neck trauma and an acceleration of his epilepsy, which prevented him from returning to work.
After a claim is rejected by the city -- as was the case with Harlan's -- the next step would be to file a lawsuit. That hasn't happened in that case, but did in another, where Martens was apparently part of a large contingent of officers who responded to a complaint about a man and his family who refused to vacate their room at the Hyatt Summerfield hotel in the 4500 block of Chabot Drive.
That claim was filed Sept. 2, 2010, by Gene Forte of Los Banos, asking for $1 million. It contends "several Pleasanton police officers jumped and assaulted Forte with no warning, pushing him onto the ground and then strapping him against his will onto a gurney. ... He was handcuffed to the gurney and could not move."
Although that claim was also rejected, Forte took the next step, filing a lawsuit on March 4, 2011, in which he claims officers Jerry Nicely, Mardene Lashley and Martens, along with other officers named as John Does, wrongfully evicted Forte and his family, falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned the entire family, caused emotional distress, unlawfully detained the family, and violated their civil rights.
However, Forte has also sued Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, Deputy Chris Picinich and several Merced County deputies, and claims he's the target of a conspiracy that includes everyone from Leon Panetta, when he was director of the CIA, to officials in Merced and Monterey counties to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to police officers up and down the state, including those in Pleasanton.
Pleasanton police are also named in a lawsuit filed in late June by the operators of Club Neo after it was placed on probation by the City Council, which ordered the nightclub in Gateway Square to cut the number of patrons allowed in the club by nearly one-third and to close its two bars by 1 a.m. That move came after a series of disturbances both inside and in the parking lot outside in December and January, including a shooting Jan. 14 that injured a Fremont patron.
That lawsuit asks for a jury trial, claiming civil rights violations and violations of the first and 14th amendments to the constitution.
Lowell said the city takes all legal matters seriously.
"We investigate all claims, complaints and lawsuits and respond accordingly, and in most situations the claims are rejected," he said.