The city of Sacramento agreed Thursday to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit for $220,000 after learning that one of three police officers named as defendants gave false testimony in the case.
Plaintiff’s attorney Mark Merin confirmed the amount of the award. Merin’s client, Arlie Halcomb, sued the city in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on charges that officers roughed him up when they came to his Fruitridge Road apartment searching for another person in 2014 and detained him for up to an hour against his will.
“I think they did the right, honorable, ethical thing to settle the case once they realized that their principal witness had lied,” Merin said of the city’s decision to settle.
The city Attorney’s Office and the Police Department declined to comment.
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Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s spokeswoman, Kelly Rivas, told The Bee, “We think it’s an appropriate settlement given the circumstances of the case.”
Court documents filed by the city’s lawyers identified Paul Fong as the police officer who submitted the false testimony.
Fong in 2006 was awarded the Police Department’s Bronze Medal of Valor for bravery, but he drew some harsh rebukes from some community activists in January of this year when he was identified in a police video as characterizing a mentally ill man named Dazion Flenaugh – who would later be shot and killed by fellow officers – as “a freak.” The department on Thursday gave awards of valor to the officers who shot Flenaugh.
According to documents in the just-settled case, Fong, in an Aug. 7, 2015, deposition, said that he and two other officers detained Halcomb, 47, for an hour the night they went to his apartment because they found he had an outstanding, non-extraditable felony warrant in Homosassa, Fla.
Police records dated the night of the incident, however, showed that the Florida warrants check came back negative.
Merin’s office said it received those records from city attorneys on March 27. The next day, the city Attorney’s Office filed two notices “of errata and correction” in the case, saying that the defendants “recently obtained information which calls into question certain factual assertions” the city made in its opposition to a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.
The city identified 10 separate statements about the Florida warrant that the city attorneys made in their April 18, 2016, filing. The city lawyers asked that all 10 statements be stricken.
According to Halcomb’s suit, he and his fiancée woke up in the middle of the night to “several persons” – later determined to be the three police officers – trying to pry open his living room window.
Halcomb said the officers then began to kick in his front door and shined a flashlight in his eyes.
“What the hell is going on?” Halcomb said, before an officer responded, “Open the door or we’re kicking it.”
“Kick it in and you’re getting shot!” Halcomb replied.
The officers then identified themselves as police, Halcomb said, which he called “a game changer.” When Halcomb let them in, he said, they rushed him, twisted his arm and threw him onto a couch.
In their report, the officers said they knocked on the door for “several minutes” before anyone responded. They said that after Halcomb threatened them he remained “constantly verbally aggressive and uncooperative” and that he was “cursing at us and talking about fighting us if he were not in handcuffs.”
Within several minutes, the officers realized they had entered the wrong apartment, although the address they had did match up with the residence of the suspect for whom they were looking. However, she had moved into the unit next door in a switch with Halcomb, according to court documents.
Fong, in his sworn deposition, said the police decided anyway to take a closer look at Halcomb, due to his behavior and “the number of tattoos he had.” Fong said he believed “it would be unusual for him to have no records.” Once the officers determined that Halcomb previously had lived in Florida, Fong said he ran a check on him in that state and found Halcomb had “a misdemeanor warrant – no – felony, a non-extraditable warrant.”
Halcomb said in a statement released through Merin’s office that he was “satisfied” with the settlement but “frustrated” that it took two years and four months since he first filed the suit.
“After learning that the intruders were police officers, I’m glad I wasn’t shot and killed,” he said. “I hope that the city will re-evaluate its policies because I believe my experience could have easily been avoided.”