Calif. gang member kicked by police suing for $5M

By Jennifer McLain
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

EL MONTE, Calif. — An El Monte Flores gang member who was kicked in the head by a police officer on live television demanded $5 million for his injuries from the city Thursday.

Parolee and gang member Richard Rodriguez, 24, now suffers from headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness, according to the claim filed by attorney Nick Pacheco on behalf of Rodriguez.

The claim comes nearly two months after news stations caught a police pursuit of Rodriguez – which ended with Rodriguez being kicked in the head and pepper-sprayed even though he apparently surrendered – on camera.

“Mr. Rodriguez presents symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as flashbacks, frightening thoughts, depression, worrisome, easily startled, and on edge,” the 12-page claim states.

Police Chief Tom Armstrong on Thursday said he expected the claim to be filed. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit, and the city has 45 days to reject it.

If the city does reject the claim, then a lawsuit can be filed.

“When you have a televised event that on the face appears out of order, it would be rather uncommon not to have a claim filed against a city,” Armstrong said.

But he cautioned the public not to assume that video tells the entire story. Armstrong said that he will not condemn his officers until he knows the facts.

“I believe firmly that a police officer is entitled to the same due process as a criminal,” Armstrong said. “We will let justice decide.”

The FBI, District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department have launched investigations into the incident.

On May 13 at 1:35 p.m., El Monte Police Officer George Fierro attempted to pull over a Toyota Corolla containing three suspected gang members who “appeared to have a nervous expression on their faces.”

According to the claim, “At this point Fierro decides to make a U-turn and hunt these individuals down for police harassment since it is not illegal to have a nervous expression on ones face.”

Fierro stopped the car because a necklace – later identified as a Rosary – was hanging from the rear view mirror, which is a violation of vehicle code.

Rodriguez did not pull over, and instead led police on a car and eventually foot chase.

“I don’t know why he fled,” Pacheco said outside of the El Monte City Hall on Thursday. “He was on parole, and maybe he was afraid of being in violation of his parole.”

The chase ended when Rodriguez could not get over a high fence. He surrendered by laying face down.

According to the claim, Fierro rounded a corner and then “kicked Mr. Rodriguez in the head without breaking his stride.” He proceeded to pepper spray him “directly in the face from about six inches away.”

“The use of pepper spray under these circumstances is just as unwarranted,” the claim states.

Following the blow to the head, officer James Singleterry struck Rodriguez with a flashlight three times, and Officer Ron Danison released the police dog on Rodriguez.

Pacheco said the “excessive use of force” was followed by officers high-fiving each other after handcuffing Rodriguez. Pacheco claimed the actions demonstrated that the behavior is encouraged by the police department.

“The claim is all attorney spin,” said Bruce Praet , special counsel for El Monte. “There is nothing particularly objective or factual about it.”

El Monte Police Officers Association attorney Dieter Dammeier said Fierro’s actions were justified.

Dammeier called the claim an attempt by Rodriguez to “squeeze anything out of the city.”

“It is the usual, `woe to me, I am a bad guy,’ ” Dammeier said of Rodriguez’s claim. “What should happen is the city should file a claim against Rodriguez for having to chase him for an hour and using all this police time and tax dollars.”

At a press conference on Thursday, Pacheco also distributed an artist’s rendering of how the heavily tattooed Rodriguez might look after a makeover.

One side of the rendering shows a May 13 booking photo of a shaved-head Rodriguez in a tank top. The photo shows a tatoo of “Flores” above his lip, and tattoos around and under his neck.

On the right is a photo that had been digitally altered, referred to as “Trial Look (Photoshop).” That mug shot depicts a clean-cut Rodriguez wearing a suit, a collared shirt covering the tatoos around his neck, a moustache covering the tatoo on his lip, and a full head of hair.

“The city is looking at him and judging a book by its cover,” Pacheco said. “It’s a mistake because by the time we get to trial, his image will have evolved into a much more presentable individual.”

Praet, special counsel hired by El Monte to defend the city in the Rodriguez case, laughed out loud when he saw the picture.

“The bottom line is (Rodriguez) wants money, and (Pacheco) is saying they will get money if they disguise (Rodriguez’s) true character,” Praet said. “It’s not unexpected that an attorney would try to clean up their client for court, but to openly announce their intention to deceive a jury and the public is just astounding to me.”

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