Shoplifter sues Paso Robles for police brutality

July 23, 2012

By KAREN VELIE

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.


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JB Bronson

To CA Native: Spoken like a true coward who is talking big without knowing the man or the allegations being made. It takes courage to call out the players who exploit the system we subsidize with our taxes.


pasoparent5

This happened two years ago. Why didn’t she sue much sooner?


xlswede

I could take two years plus to find a lawyer hungry or dumb enough to take this case!


pasoparent5

I’m wondering if her lawyer David Vogel is just joining the bandwagon of Paso lawsuits…not sure.


MaryMalone

Very true. It is difficult to find a local attorney who will take a case against a city or local government agency–because of “conflict of interests.”


CA Native

This must be one big buffed woman if it took two cops to manhandle her. Isn’t Dave Herandez the crybaby who suing Paso Robles because he claims Chief Solomon hurt his feelings? What a wuss.


MaryMalone

It is possible for it to be true that Hernandez was harassed by Solomon and that he was involved in a police-brutality incident.


In fact, I wonder if the fact that Hernandez was being harassed as an employee had any impact on his inability to react in an appropriate matter in this arrest incident?


There seem to be quite a few cops posting here–let’s ask them.


Have there ever been any studies done on any relationship between a police department whose officers are suffering harassment and the incidence of claims for police brutality?


Having to work in Solomon’s department must have undermined the morale and esprit d’cor.


Cindy

Hernandez arrived after she was on the pavement. It was Hernandez who immediately helped pick her up off the pavement (one cop on each of her arms) and put her in the squad car. It was also Hernandez who noticed her burned arm and called the paramedics to meet them at the PD. He didn’t have anything to do with her injuries other than making certain she got treated ASAP.


thinkaboutit

Should Ms. Braggs be held accountable for her actions? Most definitely!


Did Officer Bromby abuse his authority and cause preventable injury to the suspect? Absolutely. Only reasonable force may be use to effect an arrest. If the reported account of this incident is true, Officer Bromby’s demonstrated use of force was NOT proportionally related to the suspect’s resistance and crime committed. The actions taken by Officer Hernandez subsequent to the arrest may corroborate his partner’s failure.


Peace officers may use only the appropriate measure of force to effect an arrest, not cause injury. Bromby’s statements, which are undisputed at this point, would appear to affirm a malicious intent (or at the very least, negligence) in injuring Ms. Braggs.


Yes, tempers can flare during an arrest. However, peace officers are trained to act appropriately and responsibly. It’s simply part of the job description. By law and by oath, Office Bromby is held to a higher standard than the individuals under his detention and arrest.


There are many more similarly trained individuals who aspire to excellence in serving a deserving public. If peace officers refuse to fulfill their duties in a way that protects life and property – and does not place the cities in which they serve under legal and financial liability – then by all means, get out of the profession!


Sources:

1] http://www.riversidesheriff.org/department/ethics.asp

2] (See PC 148) http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=142-181

3] http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=833-851.90


abigchocoholic

You people are looking at this from the wrong angle.


Her chances of winning and potential damages are 0 to say $30,000. $30,000 is about worst case scenario for the county here and best case scenario for Bragg for compensation for some moderate burns off hot pavement. (There’s a lot of people who would go roll on some hot pavement right now for 30k, including me!)


It’s going to cost $50,000-$150,000 to defend it. So take a guess what’s going to happen. Take a guess about what happens to 95% of these.


Cindy

WRONG. She is young and I certainly would never take 30K in compensation for a horrendous permanent scare to my body. At her age, I would have wanted whatever medical treatment was available to restore my skin and then there is the pain and suffering (even from the plastic surgeries) to consider.


Women on a jury are going to understand that this girl wants to wear short sleeves, sexy dresses and look pretty. They will award her the cost of corrective surgery. That is a bet that I would take to the bank.


cheseburger

Right on Cindy they were wrong to hurt her, especially when she verbally complained!


danika

I don’t think the county is being sued in this case.


Did the officer provide reasonable care once she disclosed the onset of injury? Remember, she was in the officer’s Care, Custody, and Control. She was forced to endure unnecessary injury. That is a question likely to cost more than $30k…


Mr. Holly

Pretty simple call to me. If you want to act like a mad dog and try to bite someone pay the price. This was entirely instigated by Bragg. Play the game and pay the price.

As usual if the officer “wins” he has obviously over reacted. If the the officer loses he suffers injuries. I’ll go with the officer and let him do whatever he has to in order to come out the winner.

All of the “higher ups” think that you should play by Queen’s rules, sorry to let them know but there are no rules in the streets when it comes to survival.

Oh yes, someone can get Aids from a bite and yes it is fatal.


Cindy

Perhaps you didn’t see the video? He took her arm and started walking her towards his car. She said, I need my shoes (bare feet – hot pavement). Her shoes were right there on the curb and she turned from him and took a step toward her shoes. Why didn’t he just let her get her shoes? Instead, he said, you’re going down again and from what I saw on the video, he pushed her to the pavement and that is when she started refusing to co-operate with him. I agree that under normal circumstances, it would have been her own fault if she got hurt while trying to bite the cops, however; since when is it reasonable to expect a being with a highly developed central nervous system to co-operate while they are in the midst of continued “severe” physical pain? NOT gonna happen.


Mr. Holly

The application of “police holds” is in fact to produce pain so that the combative person will co-operate. An armlock is not severe pain. A human bite with AIDS could be severe. The officer went home that night unscathed and the violator got a burn. I’m still sticking with the police officer.


pasoparent5

I see your point, Mr. Holly but if this goes to trial (doubtful because App, Yang & Co. will give yet another payout) the jury will be shown the video. I think there may be enough sympathetic jurors to award a settlement. Not that I necessarily agree…


bobfromsanluis

“The application of “police holds” is in fact to produce pain so that the combative person will cooperate.” NO. The “police holds” are derived from martial arts training, specifically jujitsu and aikido; those systems were developed using the various holds based on the physiology of the human body and how the body moves and will respond to various applications of different holds. The pain is there IF the person being subdued resists, but the holds also work on a person who can feel no pain, like someone on meth or any other drug that alters the users perception. It is true that an armlock is not “necessarily” severe pain, unless there is resistance. A police officer shouldn’t be trying to cause pain, they should be subduing a suspect in a manner that allows the officer to remain in control of the situation. If a police officer gets his “jollies” by inflicting pain on people, they are in the wrong line of business.


CA Native

According to your logic, they would have been justified in shooting her dead. It’s a good thing you don’t run anything except your mouth.


BeenThereDoneThat

I don’t like to see police use excess force if not neccessary BUT on the flip side you (the person being arrested) do yourself no good to be combative. The quicker you COOPERATE the quicker you defuse the situation. It is still on the crimianl who put the chain of events in motion.


bobfromsanluis

I could agree with you in principle, but the fact that the officer kept the suspect down on the hot asphalt long enough to burn her skin is completely against any good judgement by any thinking individual. I know how to restrain a person, no matter how combative they may be; sitting on them while they are on the ground may be the most secure manner, but use some common sense! If the suspect will not cooperate and is constantly trying to get away, sit them in the patrol car and shut the door. I remember this incident from previous reports, and it sure sounds like she has a case, at least for the burns to her skin.


BeenThereDoneThat

I would think that you the individual in trouble with the law would use enough common sence to realize you have everything to lose and to protect yourself. Cops are a lot of times amped up in these situations.


Just something as simple as a traffic stop late at night, I would notice that cops would walk to your car with their hands on their pistol, not knowing what to expect. I got in the habit (use to be pulled over a lot for fix it tickets years ago) to put BOTH of my hands on the steering wheel till the office got to the window. That way to put him at ease of where my hands were. I noticed right away watching them approach the vehicle in the side mirror, that if they saw my hands there was no hand on their pistol.


It is your life and things happen fast. Make smart decisions and don’t let it get any further. That is the point I am making.


MaryMalone

What part of HER SKIN WAS BEING BURNED OFF don’t you understand?


BeenThereDoneThat

What part of my statement didn’t you understand? I am talking about the begining of the incendent, not when it got to her on the pavement. Nice spin though Mary.


SLOBIRD

I don;t know what is worst, this story about Bragg’s in general and having any person shoved to the pavement in Paso Robles in July at 2:00 pm (peak heat and hot pavement) or the City putting a police office on paid administrative leave for false charges, or early retirement bonus’ of $10,000 offered to employees. This is all lucidous for a City that has no money, just gave raises to Mr. Apps and his cronies and now want the citizens to hand over more in a sales tax increase. Now that Atascadero will be getting a Super WalMart (opening in 2014), Paso is smart and beginning to position itself for a drop in the current Sales Tax revenue so they can continue to pay all these people their fat paychecks/benefits. You will never see the sales tax increase go to streets because the increase will be hidden in the decease coming in the near future. Another scheme, don’t be fooled!!!


pasoparent5

Well said, SLOBIRD. Once A-town’s WalMart opens, Paso’s store will become even MORE rundown and ghetto-like. One reason? Shoppers like me will actually drive to A-town for a nicer, newer store.


And I doubt this newest lawsuit was a surprise for App, Yang & the council. So now there’s what–3 or 4 lawsuits currently pending? The city is pushing the sales trax increase NOT to re-stripe our pathetic roads or fix any potholes; they need the cash to pay for all these settlements, including the 250K payout to Lovely Lisa for Chittygate.


danika

I understand there are now 5 lawsuits filed against the City of Paso Robles.


danika

Last week, Heritage Ranch hit temperature of 114 degrees. Imagine how hot the pavement was there.


Cindy

I think the Officer could have used better judgement when placing her on the pavement. Why not allow her to just put her shoes on when he was walking her to the PD car? I understand that the employees said she had been combative but she wasn’t when he arrived, at least I didn’t see that on the tape. We all know what hot asphalt feels like on our feet and she just wanted her shoes. Once he put her entire body on that pavement, of course she was going to start fighting, she was in pain and her body was being scorched. I wouldn’t take kindly to that if I were a juror. I guess it will come down to what the witnesses all say actually transpired.


As to “Bratty Braggs”. If she was thirsty and had no money, I believe that all she had to do was ASK the manager or even an employee for some water. We are not that careless of a society (yet) that anyone would have denied her a glass of water or even a free cold bottled water. Many would have paid for it out of their own pocket, probably even the store manager or an employee. ASK