See Sacramento County Sheriff's deputy beat suspects with his flashlight
For the third time in six years, Sacramento County has paid thousands of dollars to settle a lawsuit against one of its deputies over a beating he allegedly administered with his flashlight.
The latest settlement resulted in the payment of $200,000 to John Reyes, who alleged in a federal civil rights lawsuit that Deputy Paul “Scotte” Pfeifer beat him with his flashlight, doused him with pepper spray and shot him with his Taser during a confrontation outside a Carmichael Starbucks in December 2014.
Federal court documents dismissing the case were filed Tuesday without any admission of wrongdoing by Pfeifer or the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
“It is disappointing and almost unbelievable that the Sheriff's Department continues to maintain that Pfeifer did nothing wrong,” said Reyes’ attorney, Stewart Katz. “The department is clearly incapable of honestly evaluating the conduct of its personnel.
“As for Mr. Reyes, the proceeds of the settlement allowed him to clear his family support obligations and buy some property and a home, as opposed to being homeless on the streets of Carmichael. That part of it gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull said he was not aware of the settlement and had no comment. Carl Fessenden, the county’s outside litigation lawyer, and Robert Chalfant, who separately represents Pfeifer, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
The settlement marks the third time since 2010 that the county treasury has been tapped as a result of lawsuits alleging Pfeifer used his flashlight to beat suspects, and it is the second such case where the deputy was captured on videotape.
In the Reyes case, bystanders recorded Pfeifer as he beat Reyes, who was lying on the street with Pfeifer’s boot holding his face down on the pavement outside the coffee shop at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Landis Avenue.
Reyes, 52, a construction worker and homeless man who has an arrest record dating back to 1986, was arrested after he got into an argument with Pfeifer because the deputy’s vehicle was blocking his path as he walked across a street with a bag of groceries.
Reyes told The Sacramento Bee in a September 2015 interview that he politely asked Pfeifer twice to move his car, then shouted a profanity at him and made an obscene gesture, which sparked the physical assault.
Reyes’ lawsuit said he suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, a concussion and a large gash above his left eye.
He was taken to jail on suspicion of resisting arrest, but the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office declined to charge him.
Pfeifer also was accused of beating a suspect with his flashlight in a September 2014 arrest of parolee Mickey Donohue. In that instance, captured on dash-cam videos from deputies’ cars obtained by The Bee, the county agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit.
The videos show Donohue being pursued by deputies who were trying to pull him over for driving a stolen vehicle.
He named four deputies in the lawsuit, which alleged that Pfeifer “beat me in the head and face with a big metal flashlight” while Donohue begged, “Please, please stop.”
Donohue also alleged that Deputy Jack Noble punched him and that, after the beating stopped, he heard deputies talking to one another and that one said, “I think we screwed up.”
Donohue filed the lawsuit as a handwritten document he crafted from inside his cell at Corcoran State Prison, where he was sent after the incident to serve a six-year term for car theft, fleeing an officer and drug possession.
His suit originally sought $813,264 in damages for pain and suffering and $12,989 in hospital bills. Sacramento attorney Mark Merin later took over the case and agreed to the settlement of the lawsuit, which does not admit fault or wrongdoing by either side.
A third lawsuit against Pfeifer and the department was settled for $20,000 after a 25-year-old woman accused the deputy of hitting her on the back of her legs with his flashlight while he was trying to get her into his patrol car.
The woman was accused of resisting arrest when deputies broke up a loud party at her Antelope home. A jury could not reach a verdict and the district attorney declined to retry the case.
Sheriff’s officials say department policy allows the use of a flashlight as a weapon under “reasonable” circumstances, such as self-defense, defense of another or in close quarters.
Pfeifer, a 15-year veteran of the department, remains on duty as a detective in the centralized investigations division.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189