SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — A Sonoma County man has been awarded $1.25 million as part of a settlement in his lawsuit against the county for being shot with a Taser 23 times while he was being booked on drunk driving charges.
The amount may be the county’s largest payout ever for a police brutality case to a person who did not die of his injuries, the man’s lawyer told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Esa Wroth, 29, was more than two times above the legal limit for DUI when he was arrested in January of 2013.
Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Randall Walker said Wroth initially was not physically resisting but was verbally abusive, and he ripped a cuff that monitors blood pressure off his arm, backed with force into a medic and tackled a deputy to the ground.
Deputies shot Wroth with a Taser and punched him as he rolled on the ground and kicked his legs but Wroth pulled some of the Taser gun’s barbs out of his body, Walker said. Most of the Taser shots were ineffective Walker said.
Wroth was held to the ground before an ambulance arrived, Walker said.
A video shows six deputies struggling with Wroth during his booking. Deputies are heard telling Wroth to stop resisting but Wroth maintained his actions were the result of being tased, punched and kicked by the deputies.
Wroth’s lawyer Izaak Schwaiger said his client had both arms pulled out of their sockets, suffered from torn shoulder blade muscles and permanent nerve damage to his wrists, along with lasting psychological issues from the incident.
Wroth called the encounter “torture.”
“The last thing I remember was just a blow to the face,” Wroth told KPIX 5 in November 2014. “and then I woke up 13 hours later.”
Sonoma County supervisors agreed to the settlement in a unanimous vote during a closed session Tuesday, while admitting no liability.
Wroth pleaded no contest in December 2014 to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving involving alcohol, and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office dismissed charges of resisting arrest, DUI and assaulting an officer against him.
Schwaiger called the plea agreement “an absolute victory, hands down,” but he said he would file a civil rights violation lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and the county.
Schwaiger called the settlement of that suit by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday “a socially responsible decision” and the first step toward holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.
“But we need to fire people and that has never happened,” Schwaiger said.
“There are a lot of good, professional cops in the sheriff’s office, but the culture there encourages real hands-on behavior,” Schwaiger said.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Cecile Focha said before Wroth’s suit was filed, the sheriff’s office reviewed the Wroth booking video and changed its equipment options to include maximum cord restraints that prevent someone from hurting themselves or others, and provide more tactical training of supervisors.
Focha said the Wroth booking event was “an isolated incident.”
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