Jury faults jail officer: Activist awarded $21,060 (JulieAnne Shull)

Posted by brosenfeld April - 21 - 2007 Comments Off

Jury faults jail officer Activist awarded $21,060 as deputy found to have used ‘unreasonable force. By Denny Walsh – Bee Staff Writer, Saturday, April 21, 2007

A jury has found a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy used “unreasonable force” while processing environmental activist JulieAnne Shull into the county’s Main Jail and awarded her $21,060 in damages.

Shull, then just shy of her 23rd birthday, and a companion drove from Arcata to Sacramento on Feb. 5, 2004, to meet with state lawmakers and lobby on behalf of a bill then pending in the Senate that was designed to preserve swaths of California’s old growth forests.

That afternoon, Shull’s companion climbed a tree in Capitol Park to draw attention to their cause, while Shull stayed on the ground, shot video and still photographs of the scene, conversed with interested members of the public, handed out literature on California’s ancient forests and provided her companion’s cellular telephone number to members of the media.

After watching her activities for nearly two hours, California Highway Patrol officers arrested Shull on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to protest without a permit and took her to jail.

She was released on her own recognizance after four days, and was never prosecuted.

Shull alleged in her lawsuit that, as she was changing into jail clothes in the presence of two female deputies, they assaulted her “by physically attacking her and pinning her against a wall, while wrenching her left arm behind her back, thereby causing her excruciating pain and permanent injury (limited mobility and disfigurement) to her left shoulder, without provocation or justification.”

Under the law governing battery by a peace officer, a Sacramento Superior Court jury on Thursday found Deputy Rebecca Purdy’s “use of unreasonable force” to be “a substantial factor in causing harm to JulieAnne Shull.”

The jury awarded Shull $15,000 for past physical pain and mental suffering, $5,000 for future physical pain and mental suffering and $1,060 for her medical expenses.

In a telephone interview Friday, Shull’s attorney, Ben Rosenfeld, described her as “just the sweetest young woman.”

“She came down to participate in the legislative process and wound up being jailed for four days and brutalized,” Rosenfeld said.

The attorney, who is from San Francisco, said he senses there is “a very permissive and lax environment at the jail when it comes to excessive force. I hope this verdict sends a message.”

The Sheriff’s Department under former Sheriff Lou Blanas was plagued with persistent complaints and a series of lawsuits from arrestees alleging excessive force at the jail.

The incident involving Shull occurred when Blanas was sheriff.

Sheriff John McGinness, who took over from Blanas last summer, said Friday that the defense will be asking Judge Judy Herscher to override the verdict with respect to the findings against Purdy and enter judgment in her favor.

Defense attorney David Melton said Friday:

“We are pleased that the jury exonerated Deputy Jennifer Page and the Sheriff’s Department on all of Ms. Shull’s claims, including violation of her civil rights, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery and punitive damages.

“We are disappointed that the jury found Deputy Purdy used too much force during Ms. Shull’s dress-in.”

At a settlement conference in February, Rosenfeld rejected an $8,000 offer from the county’s risk management adjuster, Randy Rendig.

The next day, Rosenfeld sought to reopen negotiations. Rendig responded in an e-mail that the offer had dropped to $7,500.

Rosenfeld countered with a request for $14,000.

“I am worried that we are close to squandering an opportunity to save us all the cost and aggravation of a trial, which can be avoided, and which will cost the county substantially more to maintain that the $7,500 it is currently offering,” Rosenfeld wrote in a reply e-mail.

Fifteen minutes later Rendig messaged back: “I’ll be brief. You have our final offer.”

“The subtext of that is, ‘Screw you,’ ” Rosenfeld said Friday. “I don’t think it serves the county very well. It certainly doesn’t have the taxpayer in mind.”

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