A California man with Down syndrome beaten and pepper-sprayed by police in 2012 has won a $1 million settlement from the county of San Diego.
The lawsuit alleged that 22-year-old Antonio Martinez, who attorneys said has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old, was beaten with a metal baton, pepper-sprayed, handcuffed and then held at the Vista Sheriff’s Station for five hours without being allowed to see his family.
Th incident occurred on Dec. 18, 2012, when Deputy Jeffrey Guy was in his patrol car on Postal Way in Vista to investigate a domestic violence report. According to court documents, Martinez walked past the officers car, looked at him, flipped his sweatshirt hood up and kept walking.
The lawsuit asserted Guy thought the action was suspicious, pulled his car over and confronted the man.
Guy wrote in police reports that he was worried Martinez was concealing a weapon because he had his hands in his pockets and refused to remove them.
The lawsuit said the deputy then used his baton and pepper spray on him, drawing a crowd that included other deputies and the Martinez’s sister, who yelled that her brother has Down syndrome.
Martinez had been walking to his family’s bakery, where he worked. He suffered bruises and lacerations and was cited for obstruction of justice, but the charge was dropped the next day.
Lawyers said in a statement that Martinez and his family asked Guy to admit he was wrong, apologize and volunteer for 100 hours with Special Olympics or the Down Syndrome Society, but the officer refused.
Had those requests been met, lawyers said, “financial considerations would be easily agreed upon.”
The subsequent lawsuit for battery, false arrest and civil rights violations alleged the deputy had no reasonable suspicion that Martinez had committed a crime. Guy said in his later deposition that in hindsight he had no facts to connect Martinez to a crime.
Martinez was paid $1 million.
“This case exposed little or no training, policies and procedures for the Department to deal with mentally disabled people,” lawyers said. “Hopefully some good will come of this with how the officers recognize and treat Disabled People.”
A recent report by the Washington Post revealed that in the first half of 2015, 27 percent of people killed by police – 124 out of 462 – were mentally ill or in emotional distress.
The Post reported that more than half of the killings involved police agencies that do not provide officers with proper training on how to deal with mentally ill suspects, resulting in officers responding with tactics that quickly escalated the situation.
Deputy Guy remains employed by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and received no disciplinary action.
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