by John Glidden | Nov. 19, 2020
VALLEJO – The city has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit that alleges four Vallejo police officers assaulted a man as he worked on a fence outside his Tennessee Street workshop in July 2017, according to the man’s attorney.
Carl Edwards sued the city of Vallejo in September 2018, naming officers Spencer Muniz-Bottomley, Mark Thompson, Bretton Wagoner, and then-Sgt. Steve Darden. Then-Vallejo police Chief Andrew Bidou was also named in the lawsuit.
The suit alleges Edwards suffered a black eye, a broken nose, cuts to his arms, back, hands, face, head, and required stitches over his right elbow, after officers tackled him while searching for a person who allegedly used a slingshot to shoot items at kids in the neighborhood.
Edwards’ attorney Michael Haddad confirmed the amount to JohnGlidden.com on Thursday following approval of the settlement by the California Joint Powers Risk Management Authority (CJPRMA).
“This is one of the most brutal, unprovoked police beatdowns I’ve seen in almost thirty years of practice,” Haddad said in a Friday press release. “Vallejo needs to rein in its violent police officers.”
In a statement to JohnGlidden.com on Friday, the Vallejo Police Department apologized to Edwards for having “a negative experience with the Vallejo Police Department. “
“The Vallejo Police Department will not tolerate any acts of excessive force on our residents. As you know, parties may decide to settle cases for a variety of reasons. The facts of this case remain heavily in dispute and there is no admission of fault or liability by either Plaintiff or Defendants,” the department added.
“As a Police Department and a City, we are continually learning from our past mistakes and successes as we move forward. We are actively working with our officers to bring awareness and education through ongoing training such as de-escalation tactics, implicit bias awareness, trauma-informed care, and principled policing,” the department said. “We are working hard to establish policies and a culture to avoid negative experiences between our citizens and officers, particularly those that may result in injury, and to honor the sanctity of life for all our community. As we look ahead, we will make every effort possible to ensure we are serving our community with the utmost professionalism.”
Vallejo is on the hook for the first $500,000, while the California Joint Powers Risk Management Authority (CJPRMA) picks up the balance.
Tired of paying for the city’s losses, CJPRMA raised Vallejo’s self-insurance retention amount from $500,000 to $2.5 million per claim in December 2017.
The insurance pool also gave the city 60 days to voluntarily leave the group – which the city did when the Vallejo City Council unanimously approved the city’s withdrawal from the CJPRMA in February 2018.
Since CJPRMA was still the city’s insurer when the lawsuit was filed, the authority is responsible to pay any amount that exceeds $500,000.
According to Edwards, the incident began when Muniz-Bottomley was searching for a man wearing a white tank top and black jeans. Edwards was wearing a gray shirt and brown pants, when Muniz-Bottomley approached Edwards.
The lawsuit also alleges Muniz-Bottomley wrote a false police report, claiming “that another officer had identified (Edwards) as a ‘suspect;’ in fact, involved officers’ body
camera and radio recordings reveal that no officer identified Plaintiff as a suspect – only as a possible witness.”
More than a year prior to the settlement, Muniz-Bottomley’s body camera footage was uploaded to YouTube. It shows the officer traveling westbound on Tennessee Street before making a U-turn and parking in front of Edwards’ workshop at 433 Tennessee St.
Shadows on the ground show Muniz-Bottomley gesturing for Edwards to come away from his fence and speak with the officer. The video has no audio until Muniz-Bottomley activates his camera as he approaches Edwards.
“Put your hands on your head, bro,” Muniz-Bottomley says to Edwards. The officer then states “What the (expletive)…” before grabbing Edwards, who utters his own expletives.
The camera gets covered up in the ensuing struggle as Thompson and Wagoner, who were standing at 414 Tennessee St., rush over. Once the camera clears, the video shows Edwards struggling with the officers.
“Why are you guys doing this?” he asks as his left arm is forcibly bent over his neck by the three officers as Edwards is on his back.
“Give us your hand,” an officers tells Edwards as he is flipped onto his stomach. Blood begins to pour from his Edwards’ face.
The man continues to struggle as the officers try to pull his left arm behind his back, while he is on his right side. An officer is heard saying, “if you have to break, break it” in reference to Edwards’ arm.
“I didn’t do anything to you guys,” Edwards continues to protest, as officers finally get his left arm behind his back.
Once handcuffed, Edwards continues to protest that he hasn’t done anything wrong. A pool of blood is seen on the concrete as Edwards sits on steps in front of the building.
The Edwards settlement is the latest lawsuit settled by the city in recent months.
In September, the city agreed to a $5.7 million settlement with the family of Ronell Foster, the 33-year-old man shot and killed by Vallejo police officer Ryan McMahon in March 2018.
McMahon shot Foster seven times after the two men fought behind a building in the 400 block of Carolina St. on the night of Feb. 13, 2018. McMahon, who attempted a traffic stop on Foster, told investigators after the shooting that he sought to “educate” Foster about driving his bicycle without a light, according to files released by the city following passage of the state’s new police transparency law.
Following a brief pursuit, a struggle ensued as McMahon claimed Foster grabbed the officer’s flashlight. McMahon told investigators that he feared for his life as he shot Foster seven times, killing the man.
Just like the Edwards lawsuit, the CJPRMA picked up the rest of the settlement total following Vallejo paying the first $500,000 in the Foster case.
McMahon was served with a notice of termination in late September following an internal affairs investigation which concluded the officer engaged in unsafe conduct when officers shot and killed Willie McCoy outside a local Taco Bell Feb. 9, 2019.
Despite settling the Foster and Edwards lawsuits, the city is still facing nearly two dozen excessive force or wrongful death civil lawsuits in federal court.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Nov. 21, 2020 to include a statement from the Vallejo Police Department.