The Torrance police officer who was videotaped choking a 20-year-old man at a party May 15 has been accused of brutality in two other incidents in complaints filed this month.
Officer James Lynch is the target of a claim filed Oct. 10 with the city, and is one of the defendants in a lawsuit filed Monday in Torrance Superior Court. Both actions accuse Lynch of using excessive force, the same allegation made against him by six men who were arrested at the party in May.
Those men filed a $3-million lawsuit in U.S. District Court last month alleging violations of their civil rights and released a videotape that was aired on television nationwide. It shows Thomas Tice of Torrance being held in a chokehold by Lynch while his partner, Officer Ross Bartlett, hits Tice nine times with a night stick.
Bartlett is named in the claim.
Both Lynch and Bartlett were placed on paid leave earlier this month pending the outcome of investigations of the May 15 incident by the Police Department, FBI and district attorney’s office.
No Criminal Charges
Neither of the officers has been charged with a crime and their lawyer, Richard Shinee, denied that either officer used excessive force in the incidents.
“I don’t think that because they are named in two or three or four complaints that that proves the use of excessive force,” Shinee said. “The fact that a claim was made is certainly not indicative of the fact that the officers engaged in misconduct.”
Police officials refused to comment on the latest allegations.
Catherine Hernandez, 26, said in her claim against the city that she was abused by Lynch, Bartlett and a third officer, whose full name she does not know. The claim asks for $300,000 in damages.
Hernandez, an unemployed waitress, and Jay Fisher, her roommate, said in separate interviews this week that Bartlett and Lynch came to the house in north Torrance last May 13, saying that police had received a report that her ex-boyfriend had been murdered. (It later turned out the call was a hoax and her ex-boyfriend is alive, she said.)
First Inspected House
The officers inspected the house after getting her permission, Hernandez said.
They “got belligerent and asked some really probing questions and she wasn’t in the mood to answer them,” Fisher said.
Fisher and Hernandez said the two policemen then took Hernandez outside and told her she was being arrested for public drunkenness. Lynch and Bartlett pushed her to the ground, handcuffed her and kicked her repeatedly, Hernandez said. Fisher said he saw Hernandez hit and kicked about a dozen times, although he said he does not know the names of the two officers involved.
At the police station, a woman booking officer forcefully pulled out her earrings, tearing her earlobes, Hernandez said.
While she acknowledged that she was somewhat belligerent, Hernandez said she did not attack or threaten either Lynch or Bartlett. “I think the reason they did it to me was that I questioned what they were doing,” Hernandez said. “I got a little irate with them.”
Hernandez’ alleged run-in with Bartlett and Lynch occurred just two days before the arrest of Tice and his friends, which triggered the federal civil rights suit.
Charges were never pressed against her, Hernandez said.
The other allegation is contained in a $250,000 suit filed Monday by Michael Sandoval of Torrance.
The suit charges Lynch and Officers Chester Pitts and Albert Kramer with battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil rights violations. Police Chief Donald Nash and the city are also named as defendants for alleged negligence in employing and retaining the officers.
Sandoval, 31, charges in the lawsuit that he was abused or harassed on seven separate occasions in late 1987.
The first incident occurred Nov. 7, when Officers Lynch and Kramer arrested Sandoval for an unspecified offense and then beat him, the lawsuit contends. Sandoval, a construction worker, was beaten the next day in the Torrance Jail, the lawsuit alleges.
A month later, the suit claims, Lynch, Kramer and Pitts came to Sandoval’s house again and beat him, concluding when Lynch “stomped on the back of the plaintiff’s head and slammed his face into the ground.”
Sandoval was charged with resisting a police officer, the suit says.
It goes on to detail four other threats allegedly made by police against Sandoval directly or through relatives.
Deputy Chief Jim Papp said that the department would have no comment on either of the latest allegations.
Lynch was fired seven years ago for what Chief Nash at the time called a “propensity toward over-aggressive behavior.” But Lynch was rehired nine months later by the City Council.
Attorney Shinee said that Lynch has proven his value to the department in the time since he returned to the force, twice gaining promotions and never receiving a written reprimand.