A pregnant woman who was pulled over for talking on her cellphone — and then hurled to the ground and hogtied by CHP officers on the shoulder of the busy Harbor Freeway — has been paid $250,000 in damages.
The 30-year-old woman was charged with resisting arrest and driving with a suspended license, but the charges were dropped after a judge was shown a video of the incident, captured on a camera mounted on the dashboard of a California Highway Patrol cruiser.
“The conduct here is outrageous. What these officers did here was bewildering to me. They knew she was pregnant,” said Howard Price, the attorney for Tamara Gaglione. “She never resisted arrest.”
The eight-minute video of the August 2011 incident shows a CHP officer tailing Gaglione on the 110 Freeway, with the Los Angeles skyline looming in the distance.
Once she pulls to the shoulder, after first pulling into the fast lane and appearing to cut off other drivers, a pair of CHP officers orders her to toss out her car keys, get out of her dark green Dodge Caravan and put her hands on the vehicle.
Instead, the video shows, she stands and stares at the patrolmen, appearing confused. Officers, in their official report, said she appeared to raise her arms in a menacing manner.
The action caught on the video picks up quickly from there:
Guns drawn, the officers approach the driver, and one of the patrolmen sweeps away her legs with a kick and pushes her face-first to the asphalt. Another officer then presses his knee into the woman’s back and pins her to the ground.
At another point, it appears the woman is kicked in her left ribs. Eventually she is hogtied and placed in a squad car.
“I’d never seen a gun for real before,” Gaglione said later. “I just froze. I was scared they’d shoot me.”
Gaglione said she told the officers she was pregnant when they first approached her, but Officer Daniel Hernandez — one of the initial officers on the scene — said she didn’t mention that until she was on the ground.
Hernandez said in his report that he kneed the woman in an effort to distract her so that his partner, Officer Roberto Martinez, could handcuff her.
In their report, the officers said the incident had escalated because the woman had ignored their orders and appeared to raise her arms in an aggressive manner after hopping out of the van.
Based on the report, Gaglione was charged by the Los Angeles city attorney with misdemeanor evading and resisting arrest and driving on a suspended license.
After the charges were dismissed, Gaglione pleaded no contest to a simple infraction of using her cellphone while driving. Gaglione and her attorney said the judge questioned the actions of the officers after watching the video.
CHP officials declined to discuss the incident, saying only that both sides concluded that settling the lawsuit for $250,000 was in the best interest of everyone.
“The CHP conducted a review of the tactics and, as necessary, took appropriate action,” said Fran Clader, department spokeswoman.
The involved officers remain on the force.
Gaglione said she discovered the existence of the dashboard video when the officers later drove her to the hospital, discussing it in play-by-play fashion.
Price said Hernandez failed to mark a box on the arrest report noting the existence of the dash cam video and a prosecutor initially told him none existed. But Price said his client persisted.
Initially, he said, Price got a video from a backup patrol car and was told the dash cam video could not be copied. He said he went to the CHP and videotaped the original recording himself.
Gaglione later sued the CHP and the five officers and one sergeant involved in the incident, alleging that her civil rights had been violated and that she had been subjected to excessive force and malicious prosecution.
Before any of the CHP officers could be deposed and the video admitted as evidence, CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow agreed in August to settle the suit. The state paid $250,000 to Gaglione in November.
For Gaglione, now the mother of a 9-month old son, the incident on the freeway changed her life, she said. She left Los Angeles, where she worked as nanny and ran a pet care business.
“I will always be scared of police officers because of these knuckleheads,” she said.