78-Yr-Old Man Says Police Yanked Him from Car, Beat Him, and Falsely Imprisoned Him

Elizabeth Warmerdam | Courthouse News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A 78-year-old man who was yanked out of his car by an off-duty policeman from the small town of Anderson, California and then slammed against the policeman’s pickup needs more evidence to show that the town and its police chief condoned the policeman’s actions by keeping him on the payroll, a federal judge ruled.

Gerald Knighten filed a lawsuit against the Northern California city of Anderson, Police Chief Michael Johnson and officer Sean Miller this past August, making a claim for battery, false imprisonment and false arrest.

Knighten was 78 years old when the incident took place this past July in the parking lot of a market in nearby Redding. After finishing his shopping, Knighten returned to the parking lot and found that a large pickup truck had parked very close to the driver’s side of his car, even though there were a dozen other spaces available, the complaint says.

After Knighten managed with difficulty to open the car and get into the driver’s seat, Miller emerged from behind the pickup truck and began to yell and curse at Knighten in a “threatening manner,” the elderly man says.

Miller, who was not in uniform, “suddenly reached through plaintiff Knighten’s open car window, grabbed plaintiff Knighten’s left arm and applied a ‘twist lock’ hold to plaintiff Knighten’s left arm, violently pulled plaintiff Knighten’s body forcibly against the inside of the door of his car, forcibly extracted plaintiff Knighten from his car, slammed plaintiff Knighten up against Miller’s truck and stated plaintiff Knighten was under arrest for ‘hit-and-run,’ in spite of the fact that Knighten had not moved his car from where it had been parked,” the complaint states.

The off-duty officer believed that Knighten’s car door had damaged Miller’s truck when he opened it to get into the car, according to the complaint.

Knighten, who was not convicted of any crime related to the incident, says that Chief Michael Johnson found that Miller had violated at least three of the city’s policies and procedures during his confrontation with Knighten.

Despite this, Miller is still employed as a police officer with the city, is the primary training officer for the policies and procedures department, and is one of the highest ranked officers on the force, the complaint says.

In addition to excessive force and elder abuse claims against Miller, Knighten also asserts separate constitutional claims against the city and Johnson.

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley on Thursday ruled that Knighten will have to fix his claims against the city and Johnson if he wants them to move forward.

Knighten claims that the city administers policies that subject citizens to unreasonable uses of force and protects officers accused of wrongdoings, but “does not provide any factual basis for the existence of such a policy beyond the events that occurred between plaintiff and Miller,” Nunley said.

One instance alone does not support the existence of a policy, the judge said in dismissing Knighten’s claim for Monell liability through an adopted custom or policy.

Knighten also argues that the city clearly does not train its officers because Miller, the city’s primary training officer, either cannot follow or does not know the city’s policies and procedures.

Nunley said that Miller’s actions were in contradiction of the city’s training policy and so “the court cannot reasonably infer that the city failed to train its officers on how an officer should behave while off duty, how to take an elderly person into custody, or how to protect individuals from assault based solely on Miller’s alleged conduct.”

The judge also rejected Knighten’s claim that the city ratifies its officers’ illegal actions.

“(T)he fact that Chief Johnson determined Miller had violated the city’s policies, even if there was no associated discipline, does not support the allegation that defendants had a ‘practice of allowing others to subject citizens to unreasonable uses of force with impunity,'” Nunley said.

Knighten may amend his complaint, the judge ruled.

Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent late Friday afternoon.

Published by Courthouse News Service.

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