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$1-Million Suit Alleges Abuse in Santa Monica Jail

Times Staff Writer

Jacqueline Clark was standing, she says, at the booking counter in the Santa Monica police station when a jailer grabbed her, threw her to the ground and twisted her head and neck.

The 47-year-old registered nurse and 14-year resident of Santa Monica is suing the city for $1 million because of the injuries, mental anguish and humiliation she says she suffered at the hands of the jailer and two police officers.

Clark, who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence but was never prosecuted, is one of four women who say they were assaulted or abused while held in the city jail during separate incidents over the last 2 1/2 years.

The four appeared before the Santa Monica City Council early Wednesday to appeal for immediate action to stop what Clark called “the unresolved and continuing problem of police misconduct (and) brutality” by Santa Monica officers.

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A police report said Clark, who was arrested after her car was seen drifting between traffic lanes, was unruly and had to be subdued during a search.

45 Days to Investigate

After hearing from Clark, however, Mayor James Conn, with unanimous backing of the council, gave the city staff 45 days to investigate her allegations and return with recommendations on several measures that Clark urged be adopted.

Conn thanked the women for their “courage” in bringing their stories to the council.

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Clark was accompanied by David Lynn, coordinator of the Police Misconduct Lawyers Referral Service, who said his Los Angeles-based organization has received 16 complaints of police abuse by Santa Monica officers this year.

The complaints included five from homeless people who said they were harassed by police, Lynn said.

City Manager John Jalili, in defending the city’s record, said that of about 16,000 people who were jailed in Santa Monica during the last two years, only four complaints of excessive force inside the jail were filed. A total of 37 excessive force complaints were filed in that period, he said.

City Atty. Robert M. Myers, while declining to discuss many details of the Clark case, said the city and the police administration are willing to investigate allegations of abuse or misconduct and to discipline officers who are found guilty. He urged any complaints be brought forward.

Myers said an average of 13 lawsuits has been filed annually over the last eight years against the police agency for a variety of reasons, from traffic accidents to alleged use of excessive force.

Of 75 lawsuits that have been resolved, Myers said, 50 were found in favor of the city, two against the city and 23 settlements were reached in which the city paid the plaintiffs.

“In police cases, the statistics show that the majority of suits against us are unfounded,” Myers said.

“In any organization, mistakes are made, and settlements are paid. . . . The management of the Police Department tries to ensure the well-being and safety of people who come in contact with the Police Department and can only do so if people with complaints come forward.”

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City Council members were instructed by city attorneys not to discuss the Clark case because of her lawsuit, filed last month in Superior Court. But one official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the allegations were disturbing.

“This definitely deserves looking at,” the official said.

Joining Clark in speaking before the council was Elizabeth Chmielik, who said she was in jail on Oct. 8 when a jailer smashed her face against a metal sink until she bled. She circulated photographs showing her bruised face.

“I thought scenes like that belonged to war movies,” said Chmielik, 37, a Polish immigrant, nurse’s aide and aspiring actress. “This was not the American dream but the American nightmare.”

Chmielik has not sued the city but says she may do so. She said she had gone to the police station because she was intoxicated and “wanted protection.”

Clark said she was arrested Dec. 9 as she drove home from a class late at night. The police report says her eyes were red and watery, her speech slurred at times and she had admitted to drinking two “screwdrivers.” Clark said in her lawsuit, however, that a blood test exonerated her, and Myers confirmed her alcohol level was shown to be below the amount necessary for prosecution.

No charges were filed against Clark, Myers said.

Clark told the council that in addition to the “physical assault and battery” that she and the other women suffered, they were denied needed medical care and robbed of constitutional protections at a time when they were rendered helpless and vulnerable in a jail cell.

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As she stood before silent members of the council, she turned and asked Chmielik and two other women who said they were also abused to stand.

“I’d like to point out we are not criminals,” she said as the other three rose.

“I’d like to point out these are intelligent, professional women, now afraid to go out at night because they were abused by none other than Santa Monica police officers and/or jailers, who are sworn to protect us.”

In an interview, Clark said the injuries she suffered caused her to lose her job. In addition to the alleged abuse, she is suing the city and police personnel for false arrest.

“They kept me through the night,” Clark said. “I was crying and begging for them not to hurt me, and asking why they were doing it. There was some name-calling, but I was in so much pain. . . . “

She said she first filed a complaint with the Police Department and received a letter from Chief James Keane, which said it had been determined that excessive force was not used in her case.

Keane could not be reached for comment early Wednesday.

The police report said Clark was uncooperative from the time she was stopped until she was booked.

“When (the jailer) tried to search Clark, Clark spun around very fast in what appeared to be an attack on (the jailer’s) person,” the report stated. “Both (the jailer) and myself had to subdue Clark and hold her down to gain control of her. Clark was then stood up and the search was continued to its completion.”

Ten full-time jailers are employed as civilians by the Police Department.

The two other women accompanying Clark and Chmielik refused to give their names. Both said they have sued Santa Monica over the treatment they say they received in the jail.

One, a 38-year-old legal secretary, said she had gone to the police station to bail out her boyfriend, who had been detained on a traffic violation last June. When she challenged an officer, she said, she was stripped naked, beaten and forced into a cell where she was left overnight for nearly eight hours.

“I’ve never been in trouble,” she said. “I felt like an animal, the way they treated me.”

Clark’s recommendations to the council included the installation of video cameras in jail cells and the establishment of an independent citizens’ review board to investigate complaints of police misconduct. Some cameras are already installed in the jail area.

Under the council’s direction, the city staff will study those recommendations.

“Thank you,” Clark said from her seat after the vote was taken. “We did it!” she said, turning to her companions.

“It’s all we could ask for,” Lynn, of the lawyers referral service, said. “Apparently, they are taking this very seriously.”


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