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Attorneys to bring civil rights claim against Rohnert Park police

Two local attorneys announced plans Thursday to file a civil rights claim against the city of Rohnert Park on behalf of a man who made a widely viewed cellphone video of an encounter with a police officer who drew his service handgun.

The city of Rohnert Park, meanwhile, announced Thursday it had placed the officer on paid administrative leave and would bring in an outside investigator to conduct a full review of the incident.

Santa Rosa attorney Daniel Beck said a yet-to-be-filed claim on behalf of Rohnert Park resident Don McComas would effectively “tell the city of Rohnert Park that enough is enough, and it has to stop and it is going to stop.”

Beck and his son, attorney Jarin Beck, said they had recently been retained to represent McComas.

McComas didn’t attend Thursday’s news conference. Asked about the absence, Daniel Beck said the Rohnert Park man was receiving medical attention and under doctors’ orders as a result of the July 29 encounter.

The five-minute video has been viewed more than 360,000 times on YouTube. It begins with McComas outside his home, recording a marked police SUV driving into a cul de sac.

After sitting about two minutes in the SUV, an officer exits, walks up toward McComas and orders him to remove his left hand from his pocket. When McComas refuses, the officer draws his semi-automatic handgun.

“That is a position of assault,” Daniel Beck said. “Mr. McComas did nothing to deserve that position. … So our position is that we have a clear abuse and we’re going to pursue it.”

During the encounter, said Beck, McComas “thought he was going to die. He thought he was going to be shot.”

Jarin Beck described his client as “a very longtime resident of Rohnert Park” who works in Sonoma County and has young children and a son of 18 or 19 years old.

Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park’s assistant city manager, declined comment Thursday on the attorneys’ assertions.

But he confirmed the Rohnert Park officer in the video was Dave Rodriguez, as earlier reported by The Press Democrat. Schwartz later released a statement that “the officer has been placed on temporary paid administrative leave.”

Schwartz said he didn’t know how many years Rodriguez has worked for the Department of Public Safety.

“The incident portrayed on the video is not a typical interaction between our public safety officers and the public,”

“To ensure the greatest degree of impartiality and fairness, we will be engaging an independent outside investigator to conduct a full investigation into the incident. In evaluating any complaint against an officer we need to be sure proper procedures are followed and the investigator will assist us in this regard.”

On Thursday morning, Rohnert Park police canceled their inaugural “Coffee with a Cop” event minutes before it was scheduled to start at the McDonald’s restaurant on Commerce Boulevard.

The event was billed on the city’s police and fire Facebook page as “a chance to ask questions, voice concerns, and get to know the officers in your neighborhood.”

Five minutes before the 8:30 a.m. scheduled start of the event, the city issued a notice canceling the forum. The notice stated: “We have information that individuals from outside the community have voiced an interest in using this event to cause a disturbance, potentially putting our community and citizens at risk.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Daniel Beck drew comparisons of the Rohnert Park incident to recent officer-involved shootings around the United States, as well as the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in Santa Rosa in October 2013.

“The difference between Mr. McComas and Andy Lopez is that he did have a camera and he did live,” Beck said. “And he’s able to now, when the time comes and the time’s right, to tell not only the court but the world what it’s like to be under that kind of an assault.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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