Decision to charge Gabbi Lemos with resisting arrest called retaliatory
A Petaluma woman who was charged with resisting arrest one day after she filed a police brutality lawsuit is accusing the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office of vindictive prosecution.
Lawyers for Gabbi Lemos, 18, on Wednesday accused prosecutors of trying to derail her federal claim that Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Marcus Holton threw her on a driveway and smashed her face into the ground during her June arrest outside her family home.
She alleges prosecutors reviewed all the evidence submitted over a monthlong period, including officer videos, and rejected the case for filing on Sept. 11. But the decision was reversed Nov. 13 when a different prosecutor was assigned and announced Lemos would be charged with the misdemeanor offense.
The switch happened a day after Lemos filed her brutality suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch called the timing coincidental, saying her office’s decision to charge Lemos was based on evidence.
Lemos’ lawyers said a conviction would prevent the 2015 Petaluma High School graduate and former soccer team captain from claiming monetary damages.
“If they get a conviction, the civil suit goes away,” said her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger. “And then all of a sudden, the county doesn’t have to answer for what Deputy Holton did to her.”
A finding that prosecutors acted vindictively could lead to a dismissal of the charge, clearing the way for the suit to go forward, he said.
On Wednesday, Judge Gary Medvigy ruled Lemos’ attorneys could question Juliette Hyde and Jenica Leonard, the deputy prosecutors who handled the case, saying, “You can’t just ignore the timing.”
However, that effort was blocked by a district attorney manager, who argued information about the decision-making process was privileged and should not be divulged under work-product rules. The judge granted the request for a stay from Chief Deputy District Attorney Troye Shaffer so his ruling could be reviewed by an appeals panel.
Lemos’ attorneys accused prosecutors of a cover-up.
“They are doing everything in their power to avoid telling the public why they are pursuing this case,” said Schwaiger, a former Sonoma County prosecutor.
Ravitch denied her office was attempting to hide anything.
She said the prosecutor and her management team reviewed the allegations against Lemos more than a month before the civil suit was filed and decided in October to charge her with resisting arrest.
But Ravitch said the case wasn’t filed until after the civil suit, in part because the prosecutor was waiting to talk to the deputy sheriff, Holton. She reached him Nov. 12 and the complaint was filed electronically the next day, she said.
“It was simply a coincidence,” Ravitch said Wednesday.
She would not discuss what evidence caused the change after the case had been previously rejected. She said her chiefs discussed material such as body camera recordings in round-table discussions and agreed to charge Lemos.
Ravitch said she did not know what the recordings show.
“I relied on the wisdom of my managers,” Ravitch said.
Meanwhile, Lemos’ attorney said her civil case is on hold pending the resolution of any criminal charges.
Lemos alleges she was assaulted by Holton following a graduation party at the family’s Liberty Road home on June 13.
The deputy apparently pulled over to talk to occupants of an idling vehicle that included Lemos’ sister and her boyfriend.
Lemos said she rushed forward and complained when Holton threw open the door and grabbed her sister. She alleges Holton shoved her and came after her when she retreated, putting her in a neck hold and throwing her face-first onto the driveway.
She accuses the deputy of putting a knee into her back and grinding her face into the gravel as she and family members screamed at him to stop.
Lemos was treated at a hospital and booked into the jail on suspicion of resisting an officer.
She suffered facial bruising and a black eye.
Now a Santa Rosa Junior College student, Lemos appeared in court three times last year before learning, initially, she would not be charged.
Prosecutors agreed they had received all the evidence about a month earlier on Aug. 14.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.