Twin Rivers pays $225,000 settlement for 2010 incident

03/28/2014 12:00 AM

03/27/2014 8:57 PM

Twin Rivers Unified School District has paid Ricardo Sazo $225,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in 2011 alleging excessive force and negligence by its Police Department and Officer Jason Smith.

The parolee was riding a bicycle in Del Paso Heights on Oct. 28, 2010, when Smith stopped him because he looked suspicious, according to previous Sacramento Bee accounts.

Smith shot Sazo three times after he repeatedly reached behind his back and toward his waistband during the pursuit, police officials said. Smith also used a Taser on Sazo, which police said was ineffective.

Sazo, 32, outlined his account in a lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court. He said Smith yelled at him to stop and discharged his Taser when he rode away on his bike. Sazo then hit a fence and fell to the ground. He got up and ran away but was shot when he turned back toward his bike, which had been left on the ground, according to the lawsuit. He said Smith shot him twice more before the officer’s firearm jammed.

The school district agreed to the settlement in December, according to a press release from the office of Eric Alan Berg and Associates in Redding, which represented Sazo. The payment came in two checks: $52,300 from Everest National Insurance Co. and $172,700 from Schools Insurance Authority.

Twin Rivers Unified School District officials did not comment for this story.

Sazo was treated at UC Davis Medical Center and then booked into Sacramento County jail on suspicion of parole violations and resisting an officer. The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office said it would not file charges against Sazo, and he was released.

In June 2011 the District Attorney’s Office determined that Smith was justified in shooting Sazo.

Attorney Howard Churchill, who represented Sazo, called the settlement a “big win.” The press release said that Sazo, who is in Placer County jail on unrelated auto-theft charges, was pleased with the outcome.

The school district’s Police Department has previously faced lawsuits for excessive force.

In 2012, the district paid $650,000 to five men who accused officers of brutality and false arrest. The men claimed they were arrested for no reason on Sept. 17, 2010. They were taken to the police station where one officer allegedly choked three of them. The men were booked into jail, but the District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against them.

In 2013 state worker Jeffrey Brent filed a lawsuit against Twin Rivers Unified, alleging Officer Justin Stanley used a Taser on him without warning as he was attempting to break up a fight between two women outside a Del Paso Heights market. Brent said the incident on March 22, 2012, resulted in injuries and permanent scarring.

Brent said he was handcuffed and briefly put in the back of a patrol car, but was not arrested or cited. Officers yanked the Taser barbs from Brent without the assistance of a medical professional, according to the suit.

Court documents show the case was dismissed Aug. 22. It’s unclear if a settlement was reached between Brent and the district.

Another case working its way through the courts now accuses the district and Stanley of excessive force, violating a 14-year-old’s civil rights, battery and false arrest. The family is requesting a jury trial.

The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 14, alleges that Stanley used a Taser on the plaintiff and another student on Jan. 23, 2013, because they were fighting. Stanley used the Taser without warning and arrested both boys, according to the suit.

The suit alleges that Stanley has a history of discharging his Taser and didn’t have training on appropriate use.

The boy was physically injured and was too fearful to return to school, according to the suit.

The family’s attorney, James C. Ashworth, did not return a call for comment on the case. Twin Rivers Unified spokeswoman Zenobia Gerald said the district does not comment on active or pending legal cases.

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