By Nicolas Taborek
Daily Journal Staff Writer
A man who pleaded “no contest” to resisting arrest can still sue for damages based on the arresting officer’s alleged use of excessive force, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The unanimous decision allows Steven Yount, who accidentally was shot by a Sacramento police officer as Yount drunkenly struggled against arrest, to continue with his civil suit against the city.
Yount’s attorney, Brian T. Dunn of the Cochran Firm in Los Angeles, called the court’s decision “the right result.”
“The use of deadly force, when it’s unjustified, provides a basis for civil liability, and I think the Supreme Court recognized that,” Dunn said.
A trial court initially said Yount was barred from suing the city because he had pleaded “no contest” to the criminal charge of resisting arrest. With that plea, Yount admitted that the officers acted lawfully during his arrest, the court held.
An appellate court reversed that decision, ruling that Yount could proceed with his claim against the city.
In its decision, the state Supreme Court affirmed that Yount is entitled to challenge the police officer’s use of deadly force during the arrest. Yount v. City of Sacramento, 133 Cal.4d 1424 (Cal. 2008).
Yount’s complaint against Sacramento stems from the 2001 incident in a 7-Eleven parking lot. A security guard called the police when he saw Yount, visibly drunk, heading toward his car. Police officers tried to detain Yount, but he resisted violently, provoking officers to subdue him with a taser. Yount, whose blood alcohol level was .296 during the incident, continued to resist, kicking out a window in a police vehicle.
The officers were attempting to transfer Yount, who was still resisting, to another patrol car when Officer Thomas Shrum decided to taser Yount again. When he reached for his taser, Shrum accidentally grabbed his pistol instead and shot Yount in the upper thigh, according to court documents.
Yount later pleaded “no contest” to driving under the influence and resisting arrest. Yount had three prior DUI convictions and received 270 days in jail and five years probation. He subsequently sued the city for undisclosed damages, alleging excessive force, Yount was “severely injured by the shot” and will require a hip replacement, Dunn said.
Matthew Ruyak, a Sacramento supervising deputy city attorney, said the city was disappointed in the latest ruling in the case.
Before the state Supreme Court Ruyak argued that “continuing with the civil case and asserting the unlawfulness of the officer’s conduct is inconsistent with the scope, purpose and effect of [Yount’s] criminal plea.”
In its decision, written by Justice Marvin R. Baxter, the court disagreed, saying Yount “poses no challenge to his conviction” with his civil suit.
Ruyak said the city had not determined its next move in the case, but said there are other reasons Yount should not be allowed to proceed with his complaint.
The city believes that the accidental nature of the shooting should preclude Yount’s excessive force argument and that the officer who shot Yount should be entitled to “qualified immunity,” Ruyak said.