The Sheriff’s Department was ordered to stand trial in federal court in connection with an incident of alleged excessive force against a detainee who suffered a concussion and other injuries when a deputy struck him in the head, Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled Tuesday.
Darrell Hunter, 38, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against then-Sheriff Michael Hennessey and the eight deputies involved in the Dec. 7, 2010, incident in which Hunter, seated in a chair while in custody at the Hall of Justice jail following an arrest that evening, was punched in the head by a deputy.
Surveillance cameras recorded the incident, and footage of what appears to be Hunter receiving a blow to the head, being handcuffed while on the ground and then dragged into a cell by seven deputies had been broadcast on local TV.
"This is the normal thing that they do to people they don't like," Hunter told KTVU in 2012.
Hunter, a former San Francisco resident who now lives in Richmond, was in custody for allegedly interfering with a process server, but was released hours later and not charged with a crime. He sought medical attention for a “mild concussion” and sprains to both wrists following his release, according records.
An internal sheriff’s investigation found that Deputy Burleson, the alleged puncher, violated the department’s use-of-force guidelines and recommended a punishment of five days suspension without pay, according to court records. Burleson’s first name has not been released.
“While Hunter remained seated with at least seven deputies standing behind him, you grabbed his arm with your left hand and hit Hunter in the face with your right hand although he was not physically threatening to you,” wrote Freya Horne, the Sheriff’s Department’s legal counsel.
But Hennessey, a longtime sheriff who was in office at the time, ruled that his deputies “did not violate any policies.” He did not review the video prior to clearing Burleson of wrongdoing, according to court records.
“Hennessey ignored the notice of his legal counsel and pardoned the deputy's behavior by refusing to impose any discipline against him,” Hunter’s attorney, Joe Elford, said in a statement released Wednesday. “Instead, Hennessey removed any record of the incident from the deputy's personnel file without taking the time to even review the video evidence.”
Hunter filed a citizen’s complaint against The City that was denied before he filed the lawsuit in federal court in 2011. A jury trial has been tentatively scheduled to begin Aug. 5.
The City Attorney’s Office, which represents city officials in lawsuits, said Wednesday that it intends " to litigate this case on the facts presented at trial, and do everything we can to defend taxpayer dollars." The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to requests for comment by press time Wednesday.
Hennessey left office in 2011 after serving as sheriff for 30 years. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if all the deputies involved in the incident are still with the department.
Four out of the eight deputies had excessive force complaints lodged against them prior to the incident with Hunter, according to court records, though all were dismissed.
Out of 300 excessive force complaints filed against the Sheriff’s Department between 2006 and 2010, only seven resulted in disciplinary actions, according to records.
Hunter served 11 years of a lifetime prison sentence after he was convicted of the 1997 murder of a popular ex-football star in Marin City, but after poring over court records from his cell, he successfully petitioned a judge for a new trial, where he was acquitted of all charges in 2008 and released from custody.