[2/9/2023 CORRECTION: The San Bernardino County Counsel office stated this is an active case and a settlement has not been reached yet. A Federal jury unanimously decided, 2/1/2023, a $375,000 award to the truck driver.
On February 6, 2019, a commercial truck driver was delivering a load of goods to WinCo Foods in Apple Valley.
After parking his semi tractor-trailer rig in the loading dock, the truck driver walked around to the front of the store to notify the manager of the delivery. The driver also purchased some muffins and was walking back to his big rig holding his clipboard.
As he was walking, San Bernardino County Sheriff Department Deputies pulled up to the driver in their patrol car.
According to Attorney Jerry L. Steering, it was at this point officers unlawfully detained his client, the truck driver. The officers told the driver he was loitering and asked for identification.
Steering says his client was walking back to his big rig and not loitering in any fashion.
“Said deputy sheriff(s) unlawful detention of the plaintiff was not justified at its inception, and was not reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference with plaintiff’s business / work of delivering goods to a supermarket in the first place, rendering the unlawful detention constitutionally unreasonable,” .
Steering goes on to state that after being unlawfully detained and asked to produce identification, the driver responded “No.”
The truck driver verbally protested his unlawful detention and unlawful demand for identification without reasonable suspicion of criminality.
According to Steering, the officers knew that the truck driver was delivering goods — they could see the manifest on his clipboard. The name of the driver’s employer could be seen on the clipboard that matched the logo on the side of the driver’s 18-wheel truck.
“It would be patently obvious to anyone that plaintiff was working his job and had a legitimate reason to be walking behind the store to perform his job,” said Steering in the court filing.
Steering says his client asked for a Sergeant three times to come to the scene of the incident. The officers proceeded to grab the muffins and clipboard out of the truck driver’s hands.
The officers then handcuffed the truck driver and arrested him for refusing to identify himself.
Steering says the officers ratcheted down the cuffs and his clients’ wrists were in excruciating pain. He said the officers used excessive use of force in retaliation for the truck driver’s verbal protests.
The officers placed the truck driver — handcuffed, in the back of the Sheriff’s Department patrol car for 20-30 minutes until a Sergeant arrived at the scene.
During that time, the truck driver continued to protest his false arrest. Steering said his client was called an “idiot.” The officer also said the Sergeant would “back up” any of his subordinate officers – even in the event of a false arrest.
The officers took the truck driver to jail where he stayed overnight. They released him the following morning, however, missed work opportunities and wages during the time of his incarceration.
On June 11, 2019, the truck driver was criminally prosecuted for resisting, delaying or obstructing a peace officer in the lawful performance of his/her duties – a misdemeanor.
The court later dismissed the case, September 27, 2019, on grounds of insufficient evidence.
Steering says that the officers’ excessive use of force as retaliation for verbal protests violated his rights under the without any justification other than to punish and deter his free speech. In addition, they violated the free exercise of his rights guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution.
The court filing also states that the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department failed in training their officers:
- Not to handcuff people so tightly as to cause injury;
- That it is not a crime in California for a person to refuse to identify themselves to a peace officer;
- Retaliation against civilians for their verbal protest of police actions is proscribed by the First Amendment of Constitution and cannot be criminalized;
In the court filing, the truck driver asked for $3 million for punitive damages and $3 million in compensatory damages.
A federal jury last week awarded the truck driver with the potential for more damages.