The county of San Diego has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a man with Down syndrome who was roughed up by an on-duty sheriff’s deputy.
The deputy used pepper spray and a metal baton to subdue the man before handcuffing him.
Only when he got the 21-year-old man into his squad car did the deputy realize that the man was not resisting arrest but rather had become frightened and confused because he did not understand the deputy’s commands.
Antonio Martinez was leaving his family’s bakery in Vista on Dec. 18, 2012, when he was confronted by deputy Jeffrey Guy, who was responding to a domestic violence call in the neighborhood.
Martinez, who has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, did not respond to commands to stop walking. The deputy felt he might be a suspect and used force to subdue him. Bystanders began screaming at the deputy to stop.
Within days of the incident, a sheriff’s captain visited the Martinez family to apologize.
As part of the settlement, Sheriff Bill Gore will meet with the family.
The settlement has been approved by the Board of Supervisors and will become final when approved by the Superior Court judge overseeing the case.
Jude Basile, one of the Martinez family attorneys, said he remains disappointed that the Sheriff’s Department refused to fire the deputy, adding that the department is deficient in its training for deputies on reacting to people with mental disabilities.
“Did the Sheriff’s Department learn anything from this incident?” Basile said. “I don’t think so.”
Money was not the reason the family filed a lawsuit, he said. “The family wants to make sure nothing like this happens to anyone else,” he said.
Gore, in an interview last week, disputed the attorney’s assertion about the department’s lack of training. He noted that the department has an extensive arrest protocol.
The department also recently updated its information to deputies on how to react to Alzheimer’s patients who often wander from home in confusion, Gore said.
The department keeps a computerized list of mentally challenged, “at-risk” people that patrol deputies can access from their vehicles, under a program called Take Me Home.
Firing the deputy was never considered, Gore said.
“If I thought he targeted a Down syndrome person, I’d have fired him before the week was out,” Gore said. “But that was not the case. The deputy made mistakes.”
The deputy, who had been on the department for about six months at the time of the incident, is still with the department and has undergone retraining but is not yet back on patrol, Gore said.