A federal jury ruled in favor of two Huntington Beach police officers who were accused of unlawful conduct, including excessive force, during an altercation with two Huntington Beach brothers, one of whom contended the incident ruined his chances of competing in the Summer Olympics in 2016.
The jury’s decision came after hearing testimony from all parties Nov. 16 before U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford.
A lawsuit filed in 2017 by Stephan and Nathan Shay presented 13 complaints against Officers Brandon Rockett and Daniel Subia. However, Guilford dismissed excessive-force complaints before the issue went to trial, including Stephan Shay’s contention that officers’ “brutal and completely unnecessary force” ruined his career.
The jury ruled on allegations including illegal search, seizure and arrest.
The brothers’ attorney, Rodney Diggs, said the outcome could have been different if the jury knew about the officers’ past use of force, though he did not elaborate.
Diggs said the brothers are weighing whether to appeal.
Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said it’s important to “go to bat” for officers.
“When there is that type of substantive exposure to officers, it’s important to fight,” he said.
According to the complaint, Stephan Shay, a former OC Marathon winner, was on his daily run training for the Olympic Trials when he saw Nathan Shay detained by Rockett and Subia on the evening of Jan. 13, 2016.
The officers had stopped Nathan Shay on suspicion of driving under the influence, though the lawsuit argued he wasn’t drinking and that two breath tests showed he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.00%.
The officers contended they saw him speeding on Pacific Coast Highway and that they observed “indicators of alcohol intoxication” when they stopped him and asked to see his identification, according to court documents.
When Stephan Shay saw what was happening, he held up his hands to record video of the interaction on his cellphone, according to the suit.
Stephan Shay alleged the police “brutally grabbed” him and threw him to the ground, resulting in injuries to his right shoulder, knee, hip, palm and left ankle. He also suffered “great pain” on the right side of his face, the suit said.
But the officers painted a different picture.
According to Gates, Rockett lunged at Stephan Shay after he held up his hands, then grabbed him and took him to the ground.
When Nathan Shay protested with profanity, Subia took out his Taser and warned him he would use it if he didn’t back away, according to court documents. Nathan Shay was arrested on suspicion of DUI but was later released with a speeding citation.
Gates contended the officers tried to contain the situation and that any force they used was reasonable and lawful and caused by the brothers’ “negligence or wrongful conduct.”
Paramedics took Stephan Shay to Huntington Beach Hospital, and he later was taken to jail and charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing a peace officer. That charge was ultimately dropped by the Orange County district attorney’s office in exchange for Stephen Shay’s fulfillment of certain educational requirements.
He contended that as a result of the incident, he was unable to train properly for the Olympic trials, which were 3½ weeks later.
At the trials, he ran the “slowest time he had ever run” and was not selected for the Olympic team, though his personal record would have been enough to place him in the top three runners, according to the suit.
Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said he was grateful for the support of the City Council and city attorney in taking the issue to trial.
“Our officers were simply trying to do a DUI investigation that was interfered with unlawfully by one of the [Shays],” Handy said. “I think this case is a great example of the difficult work our officers have to do on a daily basis.”