Civil rights case against plainclothes officer. $710K. San Joaquin County.

Summary

Police officer says he intervened when convenience store clerk wanted customer to leave the market following argument. Video suggests otherwise.

The Case

  • Case Name: Joseph Green v. City of Stockton, City of Stockton Police Department, Officer Robert Johnson and Officer Robert Wong
  • Court and Case Number: San Joaquin County Superior Court / STK-CV-UPI-2011-14340
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, January 22, 2020
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
  • Type of Action: Civil Rights
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Barbara Kronlund
  • Plaintiffs:
    Joseph Green
  • Defendants:
    City of Stockton
    City of Stockton Police Department
    Officer Robert Johnson
    Officer Robert Wong
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $710,000
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    90% as to Officer Robert Johnson; 10% as to Officer Robert Wong.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    Waived.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $430,000 in past and future non-economic damages.

    $280,000 awarded as a penalty as allowed for a violation of Bane Act.

  • Punitive Damages:

    The jury concluded that defendant Officer Johnson acted with malice, oppression or fraud giving rise to punitive damages. However, plaintiff stipulated to waiving punitive damages in exchange for defendants waiving all post-verdict challenges and appeal rights and payment of the full $710,000 in sixty days with no reduction for any potential bankruptcy application (given that the claim was arguably subject to the City of Stockton's previous bankruptcy).

    The parties stipulated that plaintiff could still move for attorney fees, costs and a statutory additur of $25,000 as argued. The parties stipulated that those items could be contested.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 10 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: Less than 1 day.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: See punitive damages section above.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Piccuta Law Group, LLP by Charles Tony Piccuta, Monterey.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Angelo, Kilday and Kilduff by Kevin DeHoff, Sacramento. (For Officer Robert Johnson.)

    Cole Huber by Ronald Scholar, Roseville. (For City of Stockton, City of Stockton PD and Officer Robert Wong.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Roger Clark, police practices and procedures.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    R. K. Miller, police practices and procedures.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    In 2011, when plaintiff was 16 years old, he was at a convenience store in Stockton with his mother and five-year-old sister. As plaintiff was trying to buy candy for his sister, the store clerk refused to accept his dollar bill because it was damaged. As plaintiff was discussing/arguing this with the store clerk, a person in line behind him told him to leave the store. That person was Officer Robert Johnson who was a City of Stockton Police detective in plainclothes and on duty at the time. Johnson did not have his badge where it was visible and plaintiff told him to mind his own business. (Some facts below are disputed, but dealt with in contentions sections. This narrative gives a timeline of the sequence of events.)

    As plaintiff was leaving the store, Officer Johnson pulled him back inside the store from behind. Plaintiff was taken to the ground where Officer Johnson pinned him with his knee and then delivered multiple punches to his face. Officer Robert Wong placed his foot on plaintiff's legs while this was happening. Once plaintiff was handcuffed, Officer Johnson took the back of his head and slammed his face into the tile floor. While plaintiff was handcuffed and laying on the ground, Officer Johnson kept his body weight on him by kneeling on him. Johnson and Wong did not call for an ambulance to come to the scene and they did not take plaintiff directly to the emergency room. Instead, they took him to the police station.

    Plaintiff was cited for trespassing and resisting arrest. Criminal charges were not advanced by the district attorney. Johnson wrote in his police report that he and the plaintiff were struggling and tripped over hand-held shopping baskets. Johnson did not write in his police report that he slammed plaintiff's face while he was handcuffed with his arms behind his back. Wong did not write in his police report that Johnson ever struck plaintiff. Video surveillance of the incident was captured.

    In the video surveillance, Johnson can be seen taking the hand-held shopping baskets out of the rack and placing them in the aisle at an angle. He then photographed the baskets and submitted them with his police report as evidence. Plaintiff's front two teeth were knocked out and a third tooth chipped. Plaintiff's bottom lip was split, requiring five stitches. Plaintiff had nightmares regarding the incident and treated with mental health counselors to assist him.

     

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff contended that when he told Officer Johnson to mind his own business, Officer Johnson lost his temper and retaliated against plaintiff. Plaintiff claimed that he did not struggle or resist Officer Johnson in any way and that Johnson grabbed him from behind while he was leaving the store and took him to the ground. Once on the ground, Johnson pinned him with his knee and then delivered multiple punches to his face. After plaintiff was on the ground and handcuffed, Johnson grabbed his head from behind and slammed his face into the floor of the store. Plaintiff further contended that he lost his teeth as a result of being struck by Johnson or when Johnson smashed his face into the floor. Plaintiff further contended that the police report authored by Johnson was fabricated and had material omissions. The police report authored by Wong also had material omissions. Plaintiff claimed that the two officers collaborated in deciding what to write in their police reports and cited plaintiff with crimes he did not commit to explain away their misconduct. Plaintiff further claimed that Officer Johnson staged evidence at the scene and positioned the hand-held shopping baskets where they never were in an attempt to support his fabricated story that they tripped over them.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants contended that they had the right to arrest plaintiff for trespassing as it was evident that the store clerk wanted plaintiff out of the store. Defendants further claimed that Johnson and plaintiff struggled and tripped over hand-held shopping baskets, causing plaintiff to land face first on the tile floor which resulted in his teeth being knocked out.

    Defendants claimed that plaintiff was struggling while on the ground and that Johnson punched plaintiff in the face because he was concerned plaintiff would spit blood on him and wanted him to turn his face in the other direction to prevent this. Defendants claimed that Johnson never smashed plaintiff’s face into the floor, but was instead just turning him over. Defendants further claimed that he placed the hand-held shopping baskets in the aisle and took a picture of them to show a perspective on the width of the aisle. Defendants also claimed that Wong did not know what was happening and acted reasonably based upon the information he had.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff's two front teeth were knocked out and could not be re-implanted; a chipped third tooth, a split bottom lip requiring stitches, and emotional distress requiring mental health counseling/treatment.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: Waived.

Additional Notes

The case was filed in 2011 and stayed several years when the City of Stockton went into bankruptcy. Plaintiff waived economic damages. Plaintiff prevailed on every claim against Johnson. Those claims included: assault; battery by a police officer; intentional infliction of emotional distress; 42 U.S.C. 1983 Claim for Excessive Force; 42 U.S.C. 1983 Claim for Unlawful Arrest; 42 U.S.C. 1983 Claim for First Amendment Retaliation; 42 U.S.C. 1983 Claim for Deliberate Indifference to Medical Need and the Bane Act. The jury also concluded that defendant Officer Johnson acted with malice, oppression or fraud giving rise to punitive damages. The jury also concluded that defendant Officer Wong failed to intervene when defendant Officer Johnson used excessive force and that defendant Officer Wong participated in a meaningful way when defendant Officer Johnson unlawfully arrested plaintiff. 

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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