PITTSBURG (CBS SF) — The family of a man who died last year during an arrest due to
complications from a carotid chokehold has sued the Pittsburg Police Department for wrongful death and violation of the decedent’s civil rights.
Officers attempted to pull Humberto Martinez over for a traffic stop around 2:30 p.m. one year ago Wednesday, but he led them on a short pursuit to a residence in the 4200 block of Hillview Drive.
They followed him into the home and a struggle ensued during the arrest. Martinez allegedly bit one of the officers, according to police, and they used a Taser on him.
According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Haddad, the officers also choked, punched, elbowed and kneed Martinez – resulting in 16 broken ribs on both sides of his torso.
He was handcuffed, but eventually became unresponsive. Martinez was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The official cause of death was listed as “probable mechanical obstruction of respiration complicated by carotid sinus reflex stimulation due to 1/8a 3/8 carotid chokehold,” according to the Contra Costa County coroner’s office. The incident was classified as an accident by a coroner’s inquest jury in March.
The suit names the City of Pittsburg, the Pittsburg Police Department as well as its chief of police and six specific police officers as defendants – and a number of John or Jane Does.
It claims that the officers lacked probable cause to pull Martinez over or to follow him in to the home where he was arrested, and that Martinez was visibly unarmed, posing no immediate threat to the arresting officers when they used a Taser on him, beat him and improperly choked him – “severely impairing his ability to breathe.”
“It is well known in law enforcement that a choke hold – or an improperly performed carotid hold – constitutes deadly force because it can cause death by obstructing the persons ability to breathe,” the suit reads.
“The PPD classifies the carotid hold and choke hold not as deadly force, but as the same level of force as a Taser or a fist strike … and trains its officers accordingly, in violation of widely accepted law enforcement standards,” according to the lawsuit.
Pittsburg Police Captain Ron Raman said that any loss of life is very tragic, but the incident was investigated by the District Attorney’s Office, Pittsburg police and the coroner’s office.
“Our officers were cleared of any wrong doing,” Raman said.
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