California: Court Blasts Beatdown Over Seat Belt Infraction

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper

A federal appellate court ruled Friday that the pepper spraying and beating of a black motorist who did not wear his seat belt constituted excessive force. Mark Anthony Young, 46, was driving to the gym in February 2007 when Los Angeles County, California Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Wells stopped him so he could issue a ticket for failing to buckle up. Wells’ problems began when he was unable to produce his vehicle registration.

While Wells was writing up the ticket, Young got out of his truck and walked over to hand the deputy the vehicle’s paperwork. Wells ordered Young back into his truck, but Young did not feel like doing so. He sat on the curb, eating broccoli. In his legal filing, Wells claimed the broccoli was dangerous and that he “believed that [Young] was about to throw the broccoli at [him] in order to cause a distraction before assaulting him.”


After Young refused to get back in his car, Wells blasted him with pepper spray from behind, without warning. When Young stood up, Wells beat him to the ground with multiple baton blows. A second deputy arrived and held Young down on the ground so he could be handcuffed, tightly, so Young complained.

“Well, you know what, that’s part of not going along with the program,” Wells responded.

A district court judge found that Wells was immune from any claim that excessive force had been used. The Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals disagreed, finding question of whether the use of significant force was justified should have been sent to a jury.

“Whatever such force is ultimately labeled, there is no question that its use against an individual is a sufficiently serious intrusion upon liberty that it must be justified by a commensurately serious state interest,” Judge Stephen Roy Reinhardt wrote for the three-judge panel. “Whether Wells’s claim that he feared a broccoli-based assault is credible and reasonable presents a genuine question of material fact that must be resolved not by a court ruling on a motion for summary judgment but by a jury in its capacity as the trier of fact.”

The court did not believe Wells had any true concern about his own safety and noted that the officer attributed various crude statements to Young in his incident report that an audio recording later proved were never said.

“Young’s failure to wear a seatbelt was a run-of-the-mill traffic violation that clearly provided little, if any, support for the use of force upon him,” Reinhardt wrote. “And while disobeying a peace officer’s order certainly provides more justification for force than does a minor traffic offense, such conduct still constitutes only a non-violent misdemeanor offense that will tend to justify force in far fewer circumstances than more serious offenses, such as violent felonies.”

The ruling reversed the lower court ruling and remanded it for further proceedings. A copy of the decision is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Young v. County of Los Angeles (US Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 8/26/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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  • Eldard Eldard on Aug 30, 2011

    This wouldn't have happened if he ate celery instead. Some people never make the right decision.

  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Sep 01, 2011

    I was the alternate juror on a DWI case here about 20 years ago. The cop who made the arrest already had us leaning towards not guilty after he ignored the severe eye injury the driver had, and insisted on repeatedly shining a bright flashlight into his damaged eye, causing what an opthamologist said was "Severe pain, like a needle in his eye!". Then the cop took the stand, and lied, over and over again. This is a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and everyone who drives knows that the police, and this cop in particular, sits (hides in the used cars and trucks to be precise) at the local Dodge dealer, right across from the bar the suspect came out of, hoping to score a DWI arrest. He denied sitting there that night, and came up with a totally lame story that he had passed the suspect's car, turned around, caught up with him only a couple hundred feet North of the intersection. The judge knew he was lying, the prosecutor knew he was lying, and the defense lawyer knew he was lying. The defense attorney got him to say it several times, and the prosecutor was squirming, and when she did a re-direct, she tried and tried and tried to get him to get out of the hole he had dug for the case, but he just made it worse. I was released when the jury went to vote. When I got home TEN MINUTES later, a friend of mine, who was one of the other voting jurors, called me from home, and said, "We went into the hall, voted and came right back in!". The cop had no clue what had happened, but the judge said after it was over, "We all saw something very interesting today, and some people should think about this and maybe make some changes in their future conduct", meaning the cop, of course. Of course, the cop is now the assistant chief!

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