This past July, 34-year-old La'Marcus McDonald was between houses and, after indulging in some tequila, chose to sleep inside his friend's car one night with the door ajar. He was later that evening allegedly subjected to "excessive and deadly force" by an officer conducting a welfare check.
In a lawsuit filed to United States District Court for the Northern District of California Thursday, a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy is described slamming McDonald's ("the Plaintiff's") face into the ground, knocking out at least two of his teeth and leaving him injured. The claim also alleges charges of “resisting arrest” were used to cover up the deputy's excessive force. To add insult to injury, Sonoma County is objecting to making the body-cam footage from the July 9 encounter in Windsor public, negligent of both state laws and the Sheriff's Office protocols.
La’Marcus McDonald has filed a lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff and Windsor police officers for a wrongful arrest and excessive force in 2019 that left McDonald unconscious with two broken teeth, a third tooth knocked out and multiple lacerations.https://t.co/9wFSj9FW0v— The Windsor Times (@Windsor_Times) June 26, 2020
"I think the sheriff is hiding incidents of this nature by refusing to release the video," enlighted attorney Reed Kathrein, an attorney representing McDonald who’s known the Plaintiff since childhood, to KQED. And as the media and news outlet notes: the lawsuit is also claiming McDonald's arrest is part of a chain of constitutional violations by Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies, highlighting other high-profile local cases like the 2013 killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez and the more recent slaying of David Ward.
McDonald's subjection to police brutality is yet another example of how BIPOC Americans "have been victimized" for hundreds of years in this country.
“For far too long, members of our society have been victimized by the authorities and denied their civil liberties,” Steve Berman, another lawyer representing McDonald, said in a statement published by the Chronicle. “Public transparency, including the prompt release of body cam video footage, is absolutely necessary for police accountability.”
The federal complaint states law enforcement in Sonoma County has continuously used “violence, intimidation or coercion against African American and other minority residents of the County of Sonoma or persons passing through,” which would include McDonald.
In lieu of the yet-released body-cam footage, accounts and details around last summer’s incident remain amphibolic — but they still demand culpability, no less.
After a passerby saw the drivers-side door the vehicle McDonald was resting inside of was open, they called the police and indicated that they thought the person in the car could be overdosing. When Deputy Travis Perkins arrived on the scene — the automobile being parked outside of where McDonald’s mother lived — he questioned the thirty-something if he had been taking drugs; he denied, though admitted to drinking. Shortly after, Perkins, according to the claim, forcefully grabbed McDonald, grasping his right arm before trying to handcuff him.
Reports described McDonald's as being "nonviolent" and "calm," but intoxicated. However, Perkins is characterized as being hostile, later throwing the Black man to the ground face-first — "knocking him unconscious, breaking two teeth and dislodging a third."
Another officer who accompanied McDonald to nearby Sutter Hospital for treatment is said to have refused the Plaintiff’s requests for a glass of water while he was handcuffed to a hospital bed; that Sheriff Deputy is Gregory Clegg McDonald — who's also named as a Defendant in the lawsuit alongside Perkins and Administrative Sergeant Brent Kidder. After he was treated for his injuries, McDonald was transported to a county jail where he was "involuntarily held" until he could make bail.
Sheriff's deputies later had the car McDonald left behind (the one owned by his friend) towed and stored for the cost of $3,475. And, because of McDonald's financial plights, the car is still impounded, per the lawsuit.
Next week on July 1, a new state law will require law enforcement agencies to release body camera and other related videos within 45 days that capture police shootings or other so-called critical incidents, which, according to KQED, are defined as instances where "the use of force by a peace officer or custodial officer resulted in death or in great bodily injury."
However, the Sheriff's Office and Sonoma County Counsel are saying McDonald's injuries weren't serious enough to constitute the release of footage from the incident — heedless of the fact that he was knocked unconscious, suffered two broken teeth and both "facial and arm lacerations."
"We will have to disagree about the definition of 'great bodily injury,'" County Counsel wrote to Kathrein last Friday, per the news outlet. "The Sheriff's Office continues to believe that Mr. McDonald's injuries were not 'great bodily injury."
The Sonoma County Counsel's Office appears to be ignoring requests for responses and comments on the complaint from media outlets.
The 30-page filing in its entirety can be read on documentcloud.org.
Image: Courtesy of Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid via Luke Airforce Base