The Use of Force
Differing opinions on scuffle
- Bill Wallace and Susan Sward, Chronicle Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Even in strong cases, where there are witnesses and supporting evidence, the Office of Citizen Complaints sometimes fails to sustain complaints.
The case of Teddy Querubin is one of several in which the office failed to sustain a citizen's complaint, but the city paid a large settlement after looking at the same set of facts.
On a May night in 1997, Querubin was acting as a chaperone at his son's Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory high school graduation party when he says he tried to defuse a potential fight -- only to be beaten by two police officers.
A federal jury ruled for Querubin, and the city then settled out of court for $200,000.
But the Office of Citizen Complaints' investigation didn't find any wrongdoing on the officers' part, so the case never was sent up for review by the Police Department's internal affairs unit, the police chief or the Police Commission.
High school graduation party turns violent
Querubin, 46, was one of several parents serving as chaperones at the graduation party at the Irish Cultural Center near the city zoo.
About 9 p.m., fighting broke out in the parking lot when some of the 200 guests confronted three youths trying to crash the party.
Querubin was in a hallway trying to herd guests back inside, when one partygoer, Shaka Green, did not recognize him and hit him twice in the face. Another parent intervened, holding Green and telling him that Querubin was the father of one of the seniors.
As the situation was being clarified, Officer Lisa Curry, 37, appeared. What happened next is sharply disputed by those at the party and the police.
According to the federal lawsuit filed by Querubin, Curry struck the 6-foot-1-inch, 400-pound man in the stomach with her baton without provocation.
"It was totally uncalled for," said Alexis Casciato, one of four witnesses who were attending the party and supported Querubin's account. At the time, Casciato held a civilian position with the Police Department.
According to the suit, as Querubin turned away from Curry's blow, the officer clubbed him in the back. He tried to back away, and she swung her baton like a baseball bat, with both hands, hitting him twice on the left shoulder.
Dazed, he continued to retreat, and Curry swung again, hitting him in the forehead, according to the suit.
Curry's 34-year-old partner, Anton Collins, appeared, and Curry shouted to him that Querubin had assaulted her. Collins drew his baton and, holding it across his chest, sharply raised it, striking Querubin in the chin and knocking him unconscious, the suit says.
Querubin crashed to the ground with his right arm pinned beneath him and was swarmed by officers who continued to struggle with him, twisting his left arm painfully, the suit says.
During the struggle, Collins punched Querubin "three or four times on the face in the jaw area," according to the officer's own testimony in a later deposition. Eventually, Querubin was arrested and handcuffed.
Curry gave a very different account. According to her statement, she struck Querubin to separate him from a youngster he was holding in a headlock and punching.
Querubin appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, called Curry a "nigger bitch," and charged toward her during the encounter, the city said in response to the lawsuit.
Querubin was charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer. He required immediate medical attention from a paramedic and was later taken to San Francisco General Hospital for treatment of numerous injuries, according to the suit.
Officers advised not to punch in face
The Office of Citizen Complaints investigated the incident and found there were no grounds for sustaining Querubin's complaint against Officers Curry and Collins.
Querubin contested the criminal charges against him in a jury trial and was acquitted.
He also sued Curry, Collins and the Police Department in federal court, where a jury awarded him $115,000 after finding Curry and Collins had assaulted him.
The jury, however, found that Curry did not commit excessive force and was hung on that charge against Collins. The city attorney appealed, arguing the jury verdicts were inconsistent.
While the appeal moved forward, the city agreed to settle Querubin's case for $200,000, including court costs and lawyers' fees.
Some of the strongest support for Querubin's case came from D.P. Van Blaricom, an expert on police practices and a former police chief hired by Querubin's attorney, Kenneth Frucht.
Van Blaricom, who has done work for the San Francisco district attorney's office and other police departments including Chicago's and Detroit's, concluded that Curry and Collins used excessive force on Querubin in violation of accepted police procedures.
The officers, both with two years on the force, then violated his rights further by arresting him without cause and denying him the opportunity to take a breath test to determine if he was drunk, Van Blaricom concluded.
"Officer Collins testified in his deposition that he punched him three or four times in the face in the jaw area while the plaintiff was on the ground," Van Blaricom wrote in a report on the case.
"Police officers are trained to not punch people in the face with their fists because it is ineffective, likely to escalate resistance, and can result in a disabling broken hand."
Collins could not be reached for comment. Curry did not respond to requests for comment.
Physical evidence ignored, expert says
In his report, Van Blaricom also criticized the Office of Citizen Complaints' investigation, stating it "was not conducted to a reasonable standard of care.''
The investigator, he said, failed to interview key witnesses, including Shaka Green, the teenager who police contended Querubin had in a headlock when Curry arrived.
The investigator, in interviewing Curry, "repeatedly suggested answers to his questions from her own report, to which she then agreed," Van Blaricom said.
"That is not how an objective interview is conducted," he said.
He added: "The investigation accepted the police officers' version of the incident and ignored witnesses and physical evidence to the contrary.''
That physical evidence, he said, included the injuries to Querubin's head and back, which "could not be explained" so they were ignored.
The Office of Citizen Complaints, asked to comment on Van Blaricom's assessment, said none of the current staff was familiar with the case.
I thought San Fransisco police officers were too busy with all the rampant anal sex to worry about anyone else.
I have no problem with police kicking bad guy ass. But there has been a lot of press showing they are frequently kicking the wrong ass.
I think most cops use their brains and do great work. Occasionally somebody makes a bad decision and kicks the wrong ass. Their partners still back their move, and a concerned citizen gets royally banged up.
The police, and society has to own up to these mistakes and do what they can to make them right. It is infuriating to see the authorities resort to lying and coverups to protect the guilty.
It is terrifying to consider the consequences of having to protect myself against a bad decision on the part of a law enforcement officer.
It is unnatural to simply laydown and submit to force when the force is wrongfully applied. Being an American is all about standing up to oppression.
Cant you combine all these seperate Sf threads into a single one?
They are all separate topics. Only thing in common is the police department
The new RoP?
and the people writing them, and the paper publishing them, and your intent. Why have 3-4 threads bitching about the same department on theo 1st page on the GD when you can h ave a single thread and cover the same ground
There-in lies the problem. This is what you WILL get when you turn a blind eye to the occasional beat-down on the premise that the officer is always right about who the bad guy really is. Beating the hell out of a guy on the notion that him protecting himself from your un-provoked beating is resistance puts you square into the catagory of cops that need not be around.
Religion of Police