Brienna Holmes, senior sociology major, filed a civil lawsuit on Feb. 4 against the UC Davis Police Department (UCPD), the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney.
The civil lawsuit alleges her arrest and prosecution, which was on suspicion of battering a campus police officer, violated her civil rights.
“Although the protest was led by students and workers, the UCPD created the conditions that led to my unlawful arrest,” Holmes said in a statement. “I filed this suit because the university and involved parties should be held legally accountable for their actions.”
Holmes was arrested on Nov. 19, 2009 outside of Mrak Hall during a student protest against the 32 percent increase in student fees.
“I was legally standing towards the back of the crowd, about to leave the peaceful protest. At the time, officers were escorting arrestees from inside Mrak to a van in the parking lot,” Holmes said. “I was surrounded by media members and other protesters, when I was shoved without warning or provocation by [UCPD] Captain Joyce Souza. Within seconds, I was pushed onto the hood of a police squad car as several officers pulled me in different directions and violently arrested me.”
Out of the 52 arrests made that night, Holmes was the only one criminally charged. She was charged with assaulting a police officer – Souza – and resisting arrest.
In the criminal case against Holmes, the jury voted 10-2 to acquit Holmes of the battery charge. However, the jury deadlocked in a 6-6 verdict on the accompanying count of resisting arrest, which resulted in a mistrial on July 26, 2010.
On Aug. 6, 2010, the Yolo County Superior Court granted the Yolo County District Attorney’s motion to dismiss the charges against Holmes.
Then on Feb. 4, 2011, Holmes filed a civil lawsuit alleging unreasonable seizure, excessive force, malicious abuse of process and battery. She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
According to the complaint, the arresting officers, Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies Ryan Mez and Gary Richter, violently slammed Holmes onto the hood of a patrol car and pinned one of her arms that had gotten tangled in the strap of her bag. The two officers repeatedly jerked and grabbed Holmes, ignoring her screams that her arm was stuck and in pain.
UC Davis Spokesmen Andy Fell said the police officers acted within their rights.
“Based upon the information available to us, we believe the officers acted appropriately and certainly have no legal vulnerability,” he said in a statement.
While preparing for the civil lawsuit, Holmes and her attorney, Stewart Katz, reviewed Facebook updates by one of the arresting officers, Deputy Sheriff Mez.
In a Facebook status on Sept. 25, 2010, Mez posted, “is looking to ruin somebody’s day! Anybody wanna go to jail today?”
Then a few months later in November, he posted, “I hate the people I’m with. Fucking Davis people!”
Katz said the Facebook postings might be relevant to the officer’s state of mind during the arrest and whether or not he is liable for punitive damages.
“If he operated under ill will or malice, that would be a factor to be considered in terms of whether or not he should be assessed for punitive damages.”
Mez was not available to comment in response to the Facebook postings.
In addition, the complaint alleges that the DA’s prosecution of the criminal case cost Holmes legal fees and further humiliation, while those who were arrested for trespassing were not prosecuted.
Defendants in the lawsuit include, Souza and Lt. Matthew Carmichael, Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies Mez and Richter, District Attorney Jeff Reisig and the county of Yolo.
Yolo County Sheriff Edward Prieto said he could not comment since the case is now in civil litigation.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven disputed the allegations made in Holmes’s complaint.
“The civil case [Holmes] filed is meritless,” he said. “We must keep in mind that in the criminal case, six jurors felt beyond a reasonable doubt that Miss Holmes committed a crime against the very officers she is suing.”
UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the police department will not be making comments now that it’s an ongoing lawsuit.
“We’ll just see how it plays out in court,” she said.
MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.