The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing a California police department for using excessive force to arrest a teenager who walked through a residential neighborhood while on his way to get prom tickets.
A lawsuit states that the interaction between then-high school student Pablo Simental Jr. and officers with the Delano Police Department (DPD) occurred on April 11, 2019. Simental and three of his friends were walking to Wonderful College Prep Academy to get prom tickets. The trip took them through a residential neighborhood.
While in the neighborhood, the suit alleges that DPD officers, including Ruben Ozuna, Michael Strand, and Guadalupe Contreras, approached the teens and began to question them. The teens invoked their right to remain silent.
That’s when the lawsuit says the officers used excessive force on the teens, some of which was captured on video and shared on social media.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers purposefully veered their patrol vehicle toward the teens, almost hitting them, and began conducting arrests for jaywalking. The behavior worsened after the Simental and the other teens pulled their cellphones out and began to film the officers. The officers reportedly tried to take the phones by force, forcing some teens to the ground and handcuffing them. Ozuna ran toward Simental, body-slammed him, and put his body on top of Simental to handcuff him tightly.
The lawsuit says this caused “severe pain.”
Though criminal charges were not filed against Simental in court, he remained in jail for several hours with his hands cuffed tightly behind his back.
Following the incident, Simental received a letter stating that the DPD conducted an investigation and exonerated the officers of misconduct.
The ACLU is now suing the officers and the city for damages in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California arguing that the defendants violated Simental’s First Amendment right against retaliation by reacting with force when the teens questioned the officers and recorded their actions. The ACLU also argues that the defendants violated Simental’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure and excessive force.
The DPD issued the following statement last year about the events, admitting to using force:
The Delano Police Department is aware of videos posted to Facebook showing officers making several arrests on the 2400 block of Liverno Drive. These subjects were initially found in the roadway and refused officers’ orders to move. Officers attempted to detain them however, they refused to comply. Force was then used to make arrests, some of which can be seen in the video.
Whether Simental and his friends were simply walking through a neighborhood or jaywalking, like the cops claim, neither action is ever egregious enough for force to be used in such a manner.