News

Palo Alto settles suit after allegations of excessive force

Council approves $250,000 payment to Los Altos Hills resident who said he suffered seizure while being arrested in 2013

Palo Alto will pay $250,000 to settle its lawsuit with a Los Altos Hills resident who claimed he was unfairly arrested, subjected to excessive force and deprived of medical care by police officers after he suffered an epileptic seizure during a traffic stop in August 2013.

The City Council agreed during a closed session on Tuesday night to settle the suit from Tyler Harney for $250,000, according to City Attorney Molly Stump.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in July 2014 and amended in February 2015, stems from an incident that occurred after a traffic stop on Aug. 3, 2013. According to the suit, Harney was a passenger in a car that was pulled over around noon on that day. The suit claims at least two officers pushed Harney against a squad car, apparently in route to handcuffing and arresting him.

Harney then began "convulsing uncontrollably as a result of a seizure disorder," the suit states. Instead of providing medical care, the suit states, officers forced him to the ground and one officer put his knee "forcefully against (Harney's) back and neck" while another "pulled and twisted back on (his) left arm." The suit alleges that an officer injured Harney's arm and shoulder.

Harney was eventually taken to Stanford Hospital, where doctors operated on his injured arm and shoulder, the suit states. He was kept in "unnecessarily tight" shackles while at the hospital, which he claimed caused him "additional and unreasonable pain." Two days after the operation, Harney was taken to the Santa Clara County Jail, from where he was released the following day, the suit states. During the incarceration, the suit claims, the Department of Corrections exhibited "deliberate indifference" to his medical needs, failed to provide proper medication and failed to ensure that the recently operated shoulder was kept properly immobilized and protected.

In addition to suing the city and the Palo Alto Police Department, Harney's complaint also lists as the defendants Police Chief Dennis Burns and the officers who he said participated in the stop: Officer Thomas DeStefano, Sgt. Alex Afanasiev, Sgt. Con Maloney and Officers Dave Pecoraro and David Fegueroa. The suit also targets the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department, county Sheriff Laurie Smith and county Department of Corrections Chief John Hirokawa.

The city has thus far denied all allegations in the suit, other than that Harney was indeed traveling in a vehicle stopped by police, that DeStefano was present at the scene and that Harney was handcuffed and arrested by members of the police department. The city's response asserted that all actions undertaken by Palo Alto's defendants in this case "were lawful and privileged, and undertaken in defense of self and/or defense of others."

The council's decision Tuesday night means that the suit will now be dismissed, Stump said. Settlement documents will be prepared next week, she said.

Comments

27 people like this
Posted by Kristin M
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2016 at 10:17 am

The Daily Post's story on this case today mentions that the city decided to settle after a judge ruled that Harney's lawyers could investigate whether police erased the videos of the arrest. Maybe the city's decision to settle was coincidental with this ruling, but we'll never know if police destroyed evidence in this case.


17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2016 at 10:50 am

What was he arrested for in the first place?


31 people like this
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2016 at 11:49 am

Gennady, Please, as mentioned above, get the important details about what took place in the story you write about what took place. Why was the car stopped and why was this seemingly innocent passenger arrested?


14 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Can anyone wonder why police agencies across the country operate under so much suspicion and mistrust? There is a reasonable argument against trying cases in the media, but surely we can do better than the utter lack of transparency and reflexive circling of the wagons that accompany every case in which excessive use of force by the police is alleged.

The claim that confidentiality is necessary because of the need to protect "the privacy of police personnel" or to avoid jeopardizing "potential litigation," along with the flimsy assertion that only the police are qualified to investigate the police, all add up to 90% baloney, and that's likely the case here. There may well have been justification for the arrest and treatment of the injured individual, but what's almost certain is that we'll never know. Almost invariably, such cases boil down to a bunch of city officials "lawyering up" to protect their political rear ends. Just ask Rahm Emanuel.

Is there any chance our elected council members and mayor or our appointed city manager will openly explain why taxpayers had to take on this expense and will any of those involved be held accountable? Who knows? We almost certainly never will. At the very least, now that the case has been settled, the police internal investigation should become a public record, available for scrutiny by those who pay the salaries and other expenses of law enforcement.


15 people like this
Posted by Rob Lancefield
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 17, 2016 at 12:20 pm

We must NOT "turn a blind eye" to what OUR police are doing on OUR behalf and for OUR protection!

We must not allow OUR entire City "chain of command"- starting with OUR City Council, OUR Police Chief and OUR City Attorney, and continuing through the chain of command in the PAPD, to hide behind claims of "personnel privacy" or "Some of the scenes showed violence."

Let the sunshine in!

Rob Lancefield


34 people like this
Posted by Need More Info
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Let me start by saying that this was definitely NOT a well-written article.

However, my interpretation is that the vehicle was NOT being driven by Mr Harney--he was a passenger. The driver of the vehicle was pulled over by PAPD because of some unnamed traffic violation. At that moment, Mr Harney began to have an epileptic seizure. The police, having no medical experience or training, mistook the seizure for drunkenness, and opened the passenger door. Mr Harney's seizure caused him to fall out of the car and onto the ground. At this point, I must interject that, having experience with epilepsy patients., during a seizure the patient's body is highly rigid, the patient cannot control this. The officers apparently mistook THIS for resisting arrest, and pulled one rigid arm around his back, breaking the arm and dislocating or otherwise injuring his shoulder as well. He was then arrested, cuffed, and sent off to jail.

Unfortunately for everyone, the officers' patrol car camera was not working, possibly not turned on in the first place, so there is no video of what happened. However, there is the testimony of the driver of the car. The police officers involved continue to insist that Mr Harney was drunk, resisted arrest, and that their actions were justifiable and appropriate.

However, Mr Harney has medical records that indicate the damage to his injured arm and shoulder were so severe that he has had to endure several surgeries. He has lost partial use of that arm, and presumable, the hand attached to it as well. This makes him at least partially disabled.

In light of all this, that $250,000 settlement is probably a little light, as locally ( we all know) that amount does not go very far. It will not make up for the loss of income, medical bills, and pain he has suffered.

The city and PAPD should be happy that they got off so easily and relatively inexpensively. Most people would have sued for millions!


16 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Every police department that investigates itself is one in which such incidents are likely to happen. The patrol-car/my-body camera-wasn't-working excuse is getting very old. I said it in another forum, and I'm certain that just like it happened then, my comments will be deleted now, but I'll say it anyway: Some cops would be criminals if they hadn't joined the police, and almost always, they are the cops who abuse the citizenry.


Like this comment
Posted by Steph Curry
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 17, 2016 at 4:31 pm

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Write the whole story
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 17, 2016 at 4:53 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 17, 2016 at 8:41 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Palo alto native
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Palo alto native is a registered user.

I noticed one of the so-called "officers" was a Tom DeStefano. I was not surprised he'd be headlining police abuse in Palo Alto. How this clown every got on the force eludes me. This guy was a punk at Gunn HS, a rather poor excuse for a human being thereafter, and also known as tag-along-tom. At one level, a good cop might be an ex-hood as he would think like a criminal and therefore do a better job on catching the same. At another level, Palo Alto was so lucky to get off with only a 250K fine. I'll bet he lead the assault and the city covered his butt. Check his record for past complaints. Instead of pay-off money, a safer Palo Alto (and society in general) would be a fired ex-cop (with some jail time) who is classic case of giving the public trust to the wrong control freak. I hope the PAPD improves it psych screening process.


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