Teacher agrees to settlement in police brutality case

A settlement in a two-year-old lawsuit accusing a San Francisco police officer of breaking a preschool teacher’s arm goes before the Police Commission tonight for approval.

According to the claim, Kelly Medora, who was a teacher at Helen Diller Family Preschool at the time, sustained a “spiral break” to her right arm when an officer twisted it behind her back.

Police reports, however, tell a different story, claiming Medora and her friend, kindergarten teacher Christine Hollander, fled from police who tried to cite them for standing in the street.

But after almost two years of litigation since the Jan. 23, 2005 incident, both parties have agreed on a $235,000 settlement, according to Medora’s lawyer, Eileen Burke.

Medora accused SFPD officer Christopher Damonte of intimidating her and Hollander for being on the street next to the curb. She claimed Damonte not only squeezed Hollander’s arm, but he also “continued to scream at and berate her.”

Medora went to find help from another officer down the street, the suit claims, and Damonte followed her. Once she was surrounded by three uniformed officers, Damonte allegedly rushed up behind her and grabbed her arm.

He “twisted it while jerking upward … with such force that he caused an extreme and complete spiral break to her upper right arm,” the lawsuit claims.

Damonte, who is on medical leave, said in a written report that Medora fled police and when he caught up with her she began “screaming and flailing” and “struck me in the chest with her right arm.” After Damonte issued an “Academy approved control hold,” Medora dropped and he heard “a snap,” he said.

Damonte would later visit Medora at the hospital to charge her with delaying and assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, charges that were later dropped by the District Attorney’s Office.

Burke said it’s typical in police-brutality incidents for police to claim that they were attacked. But in Medora’s case, she said, the evidence was overwhelmingly in her client’s favor.

“If we had gone to trial, this would have been particularly easy to prove,” Burke said.

The Police Department and The City’s Office of Citizen Complaints are also conducting investigations, but due to California law those cases are confidential. The City Attorney’s office and the Police Department declined to comment on the pending settlement.

bbegin@examiner.com

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