Lawsuit alleges Sonoma County deputy used excessive force
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday accuses a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy of using excessive force against a recent Petaluma High School graduate when he allegedly grabbed the 115-pound teen by the neck and threw her onto a concrete driveway, grinding her face into the ground with a knee to the back of her head.
Deputy Marcus Holton assaulted and arrested Gabbi Lemos, 18, after she complained about how he was treating her sister, actions that violated both her constitutional right against police brutality and her right to free speech, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecific damages, names Sheriff Steve Freitas, the county and Holton as defendants.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Cecile Focha defended Holton’s actions during the June 13 incident, which was recorded on the deputy’s body camera. Holton continues to work full time as a patrol deputy.
“All of our deputies, including Deputy Holton, behaved with restraint and professionalism during a highly volatile situation,” Focha said.
The Sheriff’s Office has not conducted a formal internal affairs investigation into the matter because Lemos did not file a complaint against Holton, Focha said. However, the deputy’s supervisors reviewed the incident, including the body camera footage from all six deputies who responded to the scene, as a matter of routine when force is used and for the criminal case against Lemos.
Focha said the lawsuit will prompt an internal affairs investigation into the incident.
Holton arrested Lemos on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer during the late-night encounter outside her home. Lemos was jailed after she was first taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries, which included significant facial bruises and scrapes.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office received the body camera footage as part of the criminal case against Lemos. Prosecutors have asked for several continuances in the case. Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell on Thursday said that two weeks ago, they decided she would be charged with resisting or delaying arrest. The complaint has not yet been filed in court.
The Press Democrat on Thursday filed a request with the Sheriff’s Office for a copy of the body camera footage.
The incident took place June 13 outside the Lemos family’s Liberty Road home after they held a graduation party for her. Lemos, a two-time All Empire Athlete and former captain of her soccer team, currently attends Santa Rosa Junior College and plays midfield for the soccer team.
The deputy apparently pulled over that night to investigate a vehicle and trailer idling in the rural roadway outside her family’s home with its hazard lights blinking. Her sister, Karli Lemos, had left her phone at the house and was returning to her boyfriend, who was waiting in the vehicle, her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger said.
Holton asked the boyfriend to step out of the vehicle, and then at some point walked around and opened the passenger door with Karli Lemos seated inside. Lemos, another sister and their mother were outside the house at this point, drawn by the flashing lights on the patrol car.
Gabbi Lemos, during an interview Thursday, said she spoke up when Holton threw open the passenger door and grabbed her sister.