Clovis man plans excessive force suit

The X26 taser gun can hit a target 21 feet away and unload electricity into its subject. (CNJ file photo)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis man recently acquitted of battery charges against a county sheriff’s deputy has filed a notice to the county that he intends to sue the deputy for using excessive force.

Gilbert Martin Lopez, found guilty of evading arrest in his Feb. 2 jury trial, claims his civil rights were violated during the incident in December 2002.

Lopez’ attorney, Dan Lindsey of Clovis, said Tuesday a police video of the arrest at a Melrose gas station shows the sheriff’s deputy using a taser on Lopez multiple times and slamming him against the hood of the deputy’s cruiser.

Lindsey said he is seeking attorney’s fees, a possible pain and suffering settlement and guidelines to be placed on the use of tasers.

Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher and deputy Sandy Loomis said Lopez was evading arrest and Loomis used appropriate force to subdue a man he believed was a violent threat. The taser is used as a tool to force compliance, Hatcher said, and each deputy makes the judgment call of when it is necessary.

Loomis said the possibility of a lawsuit angers him, especially since he believes he handled the potentially dangerous situation with appropriate force.

“There’s things that you can’t bring out (in court), knowledge that you have, words you can’t use, because the defense argues to the judge that it will unduly influence the jury against his client,” Loomis said. “Yet the defense attorney and his client can say anything they want against me, and I have no recourse.”

Hatcher said Lopez chose not to comply with the deputy’s instructions and began to fight.

“When you are a’hold of somebody, you can tell when they are actively resisting,” Hatcher said. “Without any question in my mind, deputy Loomis acted well within the law.”

According to court records, DWI and harassment charges against Lopez were dismissed.

Lindsey argued in court that the sheriff’s deputy mistakenly believed Lopez had a violent criminal history, and acted against him as though he were a violent threat.

“Whether or not the information was true or not, (that) didn’t justify the officer … to use that kind of force on anybody,” Lindsey said.

Hatcher said Lopez had a criminal history, and Loomis was aware of it.

Police were called to the gas station in Melrose on a harassment complaint on Dec. 20, 2002. Melrose officer Mike Trammel responded to the scene, and in court testimony he said he noted a slight odor of alcohol on Lopez.

When Loomis showed up, he asked Trammel if Lopez had been patted down for weapons. The answer was no. Loomis asked Lopez to put his hands on his head and that’s when the struggle began.

The video, from Loomis’ cruiser, was subpoenaed by Lindsey for last month’s trial. It shows Loomis approaching and grabbing Lopez, and then forcing him against the hood of the cruiser. All the while Loomis is shouting at Lopez to put his hand behind his back. He uses the taser, which emits a 50,000-volt charge, a number of times to force compliance.

Hatcher said Lopez was belligerently evading the arrest by keeping his arm in front of his body.

Lindsey said his client was trying to comply, but his leather jacket was pinned beneath his body, which restricted him from pulling his arm around back.

After the altercation on the hood of the car, Lopez and Loomis go out of sight of the camera where they continued the struggle on the ground. The battery against a peace officer charge was founded in the off-camera altercation, Hatcher said. Loomis sustained bruises, scrapes and even a chipped bone in his elbow, the deputy testified in court.

Lindsey said his client made the rational decision to fight back against what he believed was excessive force. The deputy maintains that Lopez was evading the arrest and that he acted well within the law to subdue him.

What each side says happened the night of the arrest:

• Attorney Daniel Lindsey: Gilbert M. Lopez was subdued with overwhelming and unwarranted force by a sheriff’s deputy.
• Sheriff Roger Hatcher: Lopez was a known felon and subdued with appropriate force.

• Lindsey: Lopez was trying to comply with the officer’s demands to put his arm behind his back.
• Sheriff: Lopez was willfully resisting arrest and purposefully did not comply with the officer’s demand.

• Lindsey: The deputy attempted to shock Lopez in the head with his tazer.
• Sheriff: Loomis did not attempt to shock Lopez in the head.

• Lindsey: A fight ensued off camera where Lopez was trying to defend himself.
• Sheriff: Lopez violently attacked the deputy off camera, with Loomis sustaining injuries as a result.