Dwain Smith, a Vietnam War veteran, was allegedly Tasered multiple times by Arkansas prison guards because he could not stand due to severe back pain. Smith, who also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was arrested for delivering Hyrocodone and was awaiting trial when the incident occurred.
Prison guards, Jacob Zulpo and Jansen Choate, confronted Smith, who could not stand, after the jail refused to provide him with his prescription medications. Smith was writhing in pain and could not get out of his bunk, when Officer Zulpo allegedly Tasered Smith to the floor.
Once Smith fell to the ground, Officer Zulpo allegedly said, “We can’t help you Mr. Smith, you’ve got to [get up by yourself] or else.” As Smith was struggling to sit up, Officer Zulpo allegedly Tasered him again, saying “We can do this all night.”
The officers tried to justify their actions by telling the court that Rick Emerson, the county jail administrator, encouraged correctional officers to use Tasers to ensure compliance with their instructions. A sign that reads, “Failure to immediately comply with orders of jail staff, you will be Tased” hangs in the jail to remind inmates of this policy. Despite Emerson’s “Taser policy,” Smith contends that Zulpo had not even received any Taser training prior to the incident.
On Wednesday, the 8th Circuit held that Officers Zulpo, Choate, and Emerson are not entitled to qualified immunity on Smith’s claims of excessive force and failure to train. Although the correctional officers may have been justified in using the Taser initially, because they claim that Smith may have accidentally kicked Zulpo when trying to get up, a jury could find that an objectively reasonable officer would not use a Taser to make Smith stand up.
In the court’s opinion, Judge Riley wrote , “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Smith, we see a nonviolent pretrial detainee in pain, seeking help, having Taser probes affixed to his abdomen, no longer acting aggressively toward the jailers (if he ever was), and attempting to comply with Zulpo’s orders to get up. No security concern’ or disciplinary necessity is apparent.” Additionally, the court stated that Choate should have known that a reasonable officer could not use a Taser for “day-to-day policing of prisons.”
Although Emerson does not deny that he knew Zulpo used a Taser without training, he believes that he is immune because no constitutional violation occurred. But the court clearly disagrees with Emerson. Judge Riley wrote, “We disagree [with Emerson] and we affirm the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Emerson.”
If you or someone you know has been the victim excessive force or police brutality, you may be entitled to relief. Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
On July 10, 2014, The Disability and Abuse Project of Spectrum Institute, an advocacy group, filed a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division alleging Los Angeles Superior Courts of unlawfully stripping away voting rights from thousands of disabled Americans who are under adult guardianship. These individuals lose their right to vote after parents petition probate courts to allow them to make legal, financial and medical decisions for their adult children. According to the complaint, a judge’s acceptance of a probate petition effectively disqualifies conservatees from voting.
“Being told that you are less than other Americans and that you cannot exercise your right to vote has a detrimental emotional and psychological effect on people with disabilities,” said Project director Dr. Nora Baladerian. “We trust that Attorney General Eric Holder will take action to protect the rights of these deserving American citizens.”
Since the court is in essence using a literacy test to make a determination of whether an individual can vote, the advocacy group claims this pattern of disqualifying adults with developmental disabilities is a clear and unequivocal violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the complaint, court-appointed attorneys disregard federal laws that allow parents to assist their adult children in completing and filing voter registration forms. The advocacy group claims the violations affect thousands of people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
“The problem of voting rights violations of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is not isolated to Los Angeles. Such civil rights violations are occurring elsewhere in California. Indeed, this is happening in many states throughout the nation,” said Thomas Coleman, the project’s legal director.
Los Angeles Superior Court spokeswoman Mary Hearn declined to comment on this situation.
If you or someone you know has had their voting rights infringed upon, you may be entitled to relief. Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
On May 4, 2014, approximately seventy-nine police officers, some dressed in riot gear, responded to a noise complaint at a house party mostly attended by African-American and Latino students of the University of Southern California (USC). As a result, six USC students were arrested that night.
Nate Howard, one of six students arrested, said that the party was meant to “celebrate his four years at USC and for networking purposes: ‘we’re graduating . . . It was the last day of classes. We had sponsors here.’” Another African-American student at the party, Black Student Assembly Director, Lamar Gary, posted two videos from the incident on YouTube that quickly spread through social media websites Facebook and Twitter. In the video, Gary narrated, “IDs were checked at this party. No one had a gun. . . . I want you to realize there are 79 LAPD officers right now.” The party was also “properly registered  with the University of Southern California’s Department of Public Safety” that night. On the contrary, a party attended by predominantly Caucasian students across the street, unregistered with the University’s Public Safety Department, was not broken up by police; in fact, “officers went to the mostly white party opposite and warned the residents to keep the noise down and [to] ‘stay safe.’”
At a University forum attended by LAPD officers, USC campus police, as well as City and University officials, LAPD Captain Paul Snell announced, “we have looked at this and we do not believe that this was race-based.” During audience questioning, however, many white USC students felt otherwise, declaring that “it was all about race.” Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a student from the party predominantly attended by Caucasian students, was among those who protested the Captain’s conclusion that race was not a factor. According to Tither-Kaplan, “my house was treated with respect and the only difference between the two parties was that racial component. . . . if you’re going to deny that, then I’m sorry, I’m just not going to stand for it.”
The arrested students allege that, in addition to racial profiling, they were unreasonably and forcibly arrested without probable cause or having posed a risk to officers. “People were traumatized and scared. . . . [t]hey didn’t know what to do—people were helpless.” Gary observed. Notably, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has since dropped the misdemeanor charges against the six USC students arrested that night due to a “lack of evidence.”
Rayven Vinson and several other students arrested that night have filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and the twelve named LAPD officers in federal court for civil right violations, assault and battery, and other civil claims. The students are represented by Raymond P. Boucher of Khorrami Boucher, LLP in Los Angeles.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of racial profiling or excessive and unreasonable use of force by the police or local law enforcement, you may be entitled to relief. Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
On July 26, 2013, after Mr. Wrana refused to go to the hospital to treat a urinary tract infection, the Park Forest Assisted Living Center called 911. Upon arriving, police officers decided to seize the 95-year-old WWII veteran by force after failing to verbally persuade him to get in an ambulance.
Entering the room, the officers fired “five rounds of bean bag cartridges from a 12 gauge shotgun.” Mr. Wrana bled to death as a result of the wound only twelve days before his 96th birthday.
Prior to passing away, Mr. Wrana was handcuffed and placed in a four-point restraint by the police officers. Officers Clifford Butz, Michael Baugh, Craig Taylor, Lloyd Elliot, Charlie Hoskins, and Mitch Greer attempted to justify their actions by claiming Mr. Wrana brandished a cane.
Although Mr. Wrana did require a cane to walk, Mangerson believes that the police had no lawful reason to implement tactical force. Not only was he “alone in his private residence,” Mr. Wrana “had committed no crime by refusing to be transported to the hospital.” Additionally, the shotgun, which emits bean bags at approximately 190 miles per hour, was fired multiple times in close quarters. Moreover, the weapon’s manufacturer even included a label warning users that the gun can lead to fatal injuries.
Mr. Wrana’s estate is seeking punitive damages for violation of due process, assault and battery, excessive force, wrongful death, unreasonable seizure, conspiracy, emotional distress, and failure to train and supervise.
If you or someone you know has been a victim excessive police force, you may be entitled to relief. Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
Bryan John Ellicott, a transgender man, recently filed suit in the New York Supreme Court against the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (amongst other city officials) for discrimination. Ellicott, represented by the non-profit ,Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is “ask[ing] the court to rule for the first time that denying transgender people use of a restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity is discrimination in violation of New York City human rights law.”
According to the complaint filed last summer, Ellicott, wearing “typical male clothing, consisting of a pair of men’s jeans and a black t-shirt,” entered the men’s locker room of a public pool to change and secure his belongings. He was later approached by a Parks Department employee who essentially told him that someone had complained about “someone being in the locker room who doesn’t belong here.” Ellicott left the public pool after two more male employees approached him and said he could either use the women’s locker room or leave the pool. “At no time did the employees of the Parks Department cite any law, rule, or policy to justify their actions.”
Michael Silverman, the Executive Director of the TDLEF and Ellicott’s lawyer, says that Ellicott is suing “because the city needs a ‘uniform approach’ rather than a patchwork of policies.” Two years ago, Ellicott was allegedly assaulted in a men’s bathroom in Union Square; he now “maintains a strategy for entering public restrooms—trying to be the only person present or being able to bring or text a friend as a contingency plan.” The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund reasons that these constant incidents directed against transgender people in public facilities “restrict their ability to fully participate in society.”
According to Silverman, these incidents of discrimination happen in New York City and in the entire country all the time, “it may sound simple to just use the bathroom but when you can’t, it makes your life awfully complicated.”
If you or someone you know has been subject to discrimination based on their gender identity, you may be entitled to relief, Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
On July 3, 2014, an Ohio woman who was being treated for a sexually transmitted disease filed a lawsuit against University of Cincinnati Medical Center for the illegal release of her private medical information over social media. The suit accuses a hospital employee of posting her medical records, specifically a screenshot of her syphilis diagnosis, to Facebook.
The suit, filed in a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, alleges that the employee posted the private information on a Facebook group called “Team No Hoes” in September 2013. Additionally, the plaintiff asserts that an email that included the same screenshot was also sent to members of the closed group. According to her attorney Mike Allen, the plaintiff was “absolutely devastated” by this unlawful leak of health information—the “most private of private medical information.”
The plaintiff is also suing Ryan Rawls, named as a hospital employee; an unnamed hospital employee; and Raphael Bradley, her ex-boyfriend. The suit asserts that Rawls, in cohoots with the unnamed hospital employee, posted the medical records at the request of ex-boyfriend Bradley. Moreover, the suit alleges that the hospital negligently supervised Rawls and has failed to help identify the other unnamed empoyee who aided in the release of her private medical records.
According to Cincinnati.com, hospital CEO Ann Liska released a memo alerting employees about the suit and its claims. Liska emphatically reminded employees that “the unauthorized access or viewing of medical records, or the unauthorized sharing of [personal health information] is a serious violation of federal medical privacy laws and regulations.”
If you or someone you know has suffered from wrongful leak of private information, you may be entitled to relief. Please contact Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
On June 4, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released a thirty-six-page letter accusing Los Angeles County of subjecting mentally ill and suicidal prisoners to unconstitutional conditions. According the DOJ, the County has neglected to administer adequate mental health services and suicide prevention practices in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
In the past thirty months, fifteen prisoners have committed suicide in L.A. County Jails, which the U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles concluded could have been avoided with proper suicide prevention practices. According to the U.S. Attorney, inmate suicides can be attributed to various factors, including the “rapid increase” of prisoners with mental health issues, failure to supervise high-risk prisoners, poor mental health care services, and “deplorable environmental conditions” at the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail.
Despite the County’s recent efforts to improve conditions in the jails, the DOJ intends to propose a court-enforceable agreement addressing additional deficiencies in the Los Angeles prison system affecting prisoners’ constitutional rights.
Moreover, the DOJ acknowledged that ensuring prisoners are not placed at an unreasonable risk of harm can be more effectively accomplished by decreasing the number of inmates requiring mental health services through community-based systems, which may provide better services to these individuals at a lower cost to the County.
If you or someone you know has been denied adequate mental health services in the Los Angeles County Jail, you may be entitled to relief. Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.
10 people were killed and over 30 were injured in a fatal collision on a northern California highway April 10, 2014. The accident involved a charter bus, a FedEx truck, and a Nissan Altima and occurred around 5:30 p.m. local time near Orland, California on Interstate 5.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the FedEx truck was heading southbound when it crossed the median for unknown reasons and crashed head-on into the charter bus full of students. Both vehicles exploded into flames on impact.
Forty-eight people were on the bus. Eight of the passengers, including the drivers of the bus and the FedEx truck were killed. The other thirty-one bus passengers were transported to seven local hospitals. The occupants of the third vehicle were not seriously injured and were also transported to a local hospital.
The passengers on the bus were high school students from Los Angeles. Along with three chaperones, they were traveling to Humboldt State University for a spring-preview event. The annual event brings low-income and first-generation college prospects to campus each year for a two-day visit. The students stay in residence halls, attend events and visit with staff and students from a program that helps historically underrepresented students.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced Friday that it is sending a team, to California, to investigate the incident. “One, we’re going to be investigating the human, the machine and the environment, and what’s critical for us especially in highway accidents if for us to collect perishable information, the kind of information that goes away very quickly,” NTSB Member Mark Rosekind said.
The NTSB will be determining whether anything from the accident could have a national impact.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this accident, or accidents similar to this, please contact Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a private consultation.
The tech-ride company Uber has instituted a policy for greater protections for consumers in the wake of the tragic death of a six-year-old San Francisco girl. An Uber X driver struck the six-year-old and her family on New Year’s Eve while logged onto the Uber network awaiting rider notifications. Uber has instituted expanded insurance coverage for its driver, to include protection for accidents that occur while drivers are not providing transportation service for hire but are logged onto the Uber network and are available to accept a ride. Prior to this change, Uber’s insurance coverage only covered the circumstances where an Uber driver was transporting a fare and not before.
However, a lot is still left to be desired. According to Uber, the policy coverage does not come into effect if/until the driver’s personal insurance coverage declines to cover an incident. This situation will likely be a prevalent one because personal insurance coverage does not cover commercial activity (transporting fares) via the livery exclusion. This new wave of tech-ride service is no different than a taxi service, and like taxi services, Uber drivers are advised to obtain commercial coverage. Gaps in coverage can leave an Uber driver with extensive liabilities where the company they work for does not have adequate coverage to cover injuries that result from an accident. While Uber’s move to help fill this gap is commendable, a lot more can and needs to be done.
If you or anyone you know has been injured in an automobile accident, contact Khorrami, LLP for a confidential consultation.
***The facts from this blog posting can be found here.