Shoplifter sues Paso Robles for police brutality
July 23, 2012
A woman caught shoplifting has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Paso Robles, an officer, and the current and former chiefs of police, claiming her civil rights were violated during a 2010 arrest.
It is at least the fifth complaint brought against the city and its chief of police, caught up in allegations of retaliation, hostile work environment, sexual assaults and mismanagement.
Rodia Monterroso-Bragg’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles, says officer Jeff Bromby committed police brutality during Bragg’s arrest. It names former Police Chief Lisa Solomon-Chitty and current Police Chief Robert Burton for failure to properly supervise and train subordinates. Solomon was chief from 2007 through early 2012, when she resigned amid numerous allegations of wrongdoing.
On July 30, 2010 at about 2 p.m., a Scolari’s Market employee spotted Bragg stealing a bottle of juice and posted a guard outside to arrest her after she left the store. Employees said Bragg was combative and screaming while they detained her which prompted a security guard to restrain the suspect.
Officers Bromby and Dave Hernandez were dispatched to the store. Bromby arrived first to find Bragg sitting in the roadway with her hands tied in front of her while four store employees stood around her.
Bromby attempted to walk Bragg to his car when she lurched forward, saying she needed to get her shoes. Bromby then forced her onto the pavement, according to a tape of the arrest.
Partial transcript of arrest following Bromby’s arrival:
Store employee: “She is extremely combative.”
Bragg: “I need my shoes.”
Bromby: “You know what, you are gonna go down again.”
Bromby: “You are not going to wrestle with me, alright.”
Bragg: Crying and yelling.
Bromby: “Don’t bite me.”
Bragg: “This is fucking ridiculous.”
Bromby: “You just tried to bite me.”
Bragg: “This is burning.”
Bromby: “Maybe you’ll learn.”
Bragg: “Officer, please, this (asphalt) is very hot. Please.”
Bragg: “This is my life, this is my body, can I please just get off of the asphalt.”
Officer Dave Hernandez arrived and the two officers each grabbed onto one of Bragg’s arms and placed her in the backseat of Bromby’s vehicle.
As a result of the minute and a half Bragg was on the hot asphalt, she “received massive and severe burns to her left forearm, which cause considerable pain and has resulted in a large permanent scar.”
According to the complaint, “Bromby fondled plaintiff’s breast and pulled her hair as he lifted her from the road.” This is an allegation that Hernandez says he does not remember happening.
“I think Bromby handled it like any other officer,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez then stayed with Bragg while Bromby interviewed witnesses.
And while the lawsuit claims that Hernandez attempted to take over the investigation after noticing Bragg’s burns, Hernandez says he noted her burns and called paramedics who met them at the police station and that he did not try to take over the investigation.
At the time, several officers contend former chief Solomon-Chitty and a few top-level commanders regularly searched videos of employees in an attempt to claim excessive force, and checked the employee’s computers for unlawful access of driving records, a misdemeanor.
In 2010, Solomon-Chitty was allegedly looking to get rid of Bromby. Solomon-Chitty and the sergeant on duty, however, did not consider the arrest of Bragg to have been an act of police brutality.
Instead, Solomon attempted to have Bromby charged with theft for helping his girlfriend remove items from an elderly relative’s home. After the district attorney’s office rebuffed her attempts, Solomon-Chitty was successful in having Bromby charged with unauthorized access to driving records, charges which were eventually dismissed.
During the allegations of theft, Bromby was placed on paid administrative leave in Oct. 2010. He elected to resign in July 2011 at a time the department was offering an early retirement program allowing Bromby a one time payment of $10,000, as well as the ability to cash in on accrued leave and vacation time.
In her suit, Bragg says the defendants violated her constitutional rights because of the alleged police brutality and the city’s failure to properly train its officers.
Her attorney, David Vogel, has demanded a trial by jury and seeks attorneys’ fees, court costs and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.