Woman punched by CHP officer files lawsuit alleging excessive force

Maisha Allums, left, daughter of Marlene Pinnock, the woman punched by a CHP officer, with attorney Caree Harper before a news conference on Pinnock's lawsuit.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

The woman punched by a California Highway Patrol officer earlier this month along the 10 Freeway has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officer and head of the agency, her attorneys announced Thursday.

The suit, filed Thursday in federal court, alleges that the unnamed officer used excessive force against 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock on the evening of July 1.

“The punches, the brutality, the viciousness of the attack itself are all violations of her 4th Amendment rights to be free from excessive force,” attorney John Burris told reporters Thursday.


The lawsuit further alleges that the officer and others conspired to “suppress the facts” of the incident, and that CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow allowed policies and practices that caused officers to believe such actions would go without consequence.

Officer Kerri Rivas, a spokeswoman for the CHP, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The incident came to light when a video of the officer punching Pinnock was posted on YouTube, then aired on television news outlets. The video, shot by a passing motorist, shows the unnamed officer pinning the 51-year-old woman to the ground and landing at least nine blows.

The video sparked outrage from civil rights activists, politicians and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. Some have called for an independent investigation and criminal charges against the officer.

The CHP has said the officer was trying to keep Pinnock from walking into rush-hour traffic and hurting herself or others. A CHP incident summary said that when the officer arrived, she ignored his commands and instead walked into the freeway’s lanes. She then became “physically combative,” the report said, and “a physical altercation ensured.”

The officer involved has been removed from the field and assigned to an administrative job, the agency said.

Pinnock was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. Her attorneys have declined to say why she was on the freeway that evening or provide more information about her mental health. Some community leaders have said she was “impaired.”

Pinnock’s attorneys said Thursday she was continuing to recover from her injuries.

“The whole story in many ways is irrelevant,” Burris said. “If in fact there was a failure to obey for some reason or not, none of that would justify the level of force that was used.”

Farrow has pledged a thorough investigation into the incident. He said the agency had asked Los Angeles police, L.A. County prosecutors and the U.S. attorney’s office for “support and assistance.”

Farrow told reporters earlier this month he was “deeply concerned” by the video, which he said had “wounded” his agency.

“We have a significant issue on our hands that we have to deal with,” Farrow said. “And we are going to deal with that.”

Pinnock’s attorneys also took issue with a search warrant served earlier this week for their client’s medical records. They said they were unaware the warrant was served until after the fact, and said the CHP might have gleaned information violating doctor-patient confidentiality or attorney-client privilege.

A spokeswoman for Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center confirmed that the CHP served a search warrant there Tuesday for Pinnock’s medical records. The hospital declined to comment further.

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