If Sheriff's Deputy Randall Ribada had allowed Lee Lacy to walk 10 more feet out the front door of the Chula Vista Courthouse, the entire incident could've been avoided. Instead, the county last week coughed up $250,000 to settle a civil-rights case, according to a report by the County Counsel's office.
Attempting to resolve a routine auto violation at the courthouse in 2010, Lacy, now 27, got into an argument with Deputy Elizabeth Palmer, according to the lawsuit. After having his car inspected by a different deputy earlier that day, Lacy said, he was told by a clerk that the officer hadn't properly signed off on a fix-it ticket. While trying to find the deputy, Lacy encountered Palmer, who told him that the ticket couldn't be approved by deputies at the courthouse. He and Palmer got into an argument, and after a heated exchange, Lacy was told to leave.
As Lacy was walking away, Ribada, who overheard the exchange, followed him toward the courthouse exit and grabbed his arm from behind—the altercation was captured on security video. Lacy pulled away. Within seconds, the deputy was in Lacy's face, and, once again, Lacy tried to pull away from the officer's grasp.
"They just drove me to the ground," Lacy said. "I had sheriffs jump[ing] on my back and pulling my arms and my legs getting punched. My back was getting kneed."
Nearly a dozen deputies rushed to detain Lacy. They threw him to the floor and beat him in the courthouse lobby, according to the lawsuit. He was taken to Scripps Mercy Hospital, where he waited in handcuffs and shackles in the emergency room before being treated for severe bruising.
Initially, Lacy was charged with four felony counts for assault on an officer, said Lacy's lawyer, Julia Yoo. But as part of a plea deal, the charges were downgraded to an infraction and Lacy was ordered to pay a $75 fine.
Lacy filed a lawsuit against the county and the Sheriff's Department in 2012, as well as complaints with the Sheriff's internal-affairs unit and the Citizen's Law Enforcement Review Board. During the trial, Lacy learned that internal affairs and CLERB had found no evidence of misconduct. In December, a jury awarded Lacy $62,000 in damages, plus attorney fees, based on Ribada's conduct, according to court documents. The county Board of Supervisors settled the lawsuit on Jan. 6 for the larger sum after a Yoo threatened to appeal.
"What was most troubling is the lack of accountability and oversight and proper investigation," Yoo said. "It was appalling. It's a systemic problem."