DUI defendant alleges excessive force

An accused drunk driver alleges in a legal claim that the Costa Mesa police officer who pulled him over shoved him to the ground, breaking one of his fingers and injuring his arthritic knees.

Carl Helber, a 69-year-old former Costa Mesa resident who has since moved to Lake Havasu, Ariz., claims he's due more than $25,000 in damages stemming from a traffic stop at 11 p.m. July 10, 2012, near South Coast Plaza. He asserts that the officer who stopped him used excessive force, a claim the city automatically denied because the deadline to file it had passed.

Helber said in a phone interview with the Pilot that he admitted to drinking a glass of wine when the officer inquired at the scene of a minor crash, but was not legally drunk. He said speeding, not impairment, caused him to lose control of the car.

When Helber got out of his car to perform a sobriety test, he warned the traffic officer that arthritic knees made it impossible to perform certain moves, such as standing on one leg, he said.

"He didn't care," Helber said. "He pushed me down on the ground at that time where my right leg curled underneath me."

Helber described one knee striking the ground and the other one popping, which allegedly forced him to have two knee-replacement surgeries.

In addition, the officer's actions broke one of Helber's fingers, dislocated his thumb and injured his wrist, according to the claim filed against the city in June.

The claim asks for compensation for medical bills, lost work and the $160 allegedly taken from Helber's wallet at the police station.

Costa Mesa rejected the request because it arrived after a six-month cutoff for civil claims, but Helber and his lawyer last month filed a request in Orange County Superior Court for that deadline to be extended.

Helber wasn't aware of the deadline and didn't approach a lawyer until it was too late because he was either bedridden or in a wheelchair after his surgeries, according to a court document filed Nov. 20.

Costa Mesa's city attorney and spokesman did not return voicemails requesting comment.

Costa Mesa Police Department

Lt. Paul Beckman would not comment directly on Helber's accusations, but said an internal review process is in place for police stops that involve a certain level of force or draw excessive force complaints.

"We review quite a few, as you imagine," he said.

He declined to say whether this case had been looked into and instead spoke generally.

"We have protocols in place where we review force incidents, and we — from a professional standards perspective — we make sure there's no issues with the application of force," Beckman said.

Not-guilty plea, prior DUI

In October 2012, Helber pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges stemming from the encounter.

Prosecutors charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more.

He is due back in court in January.

Orange County Superior Court records show that Helber pleaded no contest in 2010 to a misdemeanor charge of driving with blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more.

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