County Agrees To Pay $390,000 To Students Arrested By A Sheriff 'Just To Prove A Point'

from the MAYBE-HIRE-BETTER-PEOPLE dept

Back in September, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unshockingly decided that it’s illegal to arrest schoolchildren just to “prove a point.” The Fourth Amendment demands probable cause for an arrest, even an arrest of students who have (slightly) diminished Constitutional rights.

This was Deputy Luis Ortiz’s solution to a problem he shouldn’t even have been attempting to solve. Ortiz decided the students he was speaking to about alleged bullying weren’t taking him seriously enough, so he tossed a few in squad cars and took them to the Sheriff’s office. Nothing about this was legal, but the county decided to defend this all the way to the appellate level. The Ninth Circuit’s assessment of Ortiz’s actions was harsh but far more fair than Ortiz deserved.

Deputy Ortiz clearly stated that the justification for the arrests was not the commission of a crime, since he did not “care who is at fault,” nor the school’s special need to maintain campus safety, but rather his own desire to “prove a point” and “make” the students “mature a lot faster.” The arrest of a middle schooler, however, cannot be justified as a scare tactic, a lesson in maturity, or a chastisement for perceived disrespect.

[…]

Deputy Ortiz faced a room of seven seated, mostly quiet middle school girls, and only generalized allegations of fighting and conflict amongst them. Even accounting for what Deputy Ortiz perceived to be nonresponsiveness to his questioning, the full-scale arrests of all seven students, without further inquiry, was both excessively intrusive in light of the girls’ young ages and not reasonably related to the school’s expressed need.

It appears this loss has finally pushed the county to accept the inevitable outcome of Deputy Ortiz’s unconstitutional behavior. The Daily Bulletin reports taxpayers will be paying the arrested students for Ortiz’s illegal bullying.

San Bernardino County has agreed to pay nearly $400,000 to three former middle-schoolers to settle a lawsuit stemming from a 2013 arrest a federal court ruled unconstitutional.

In October 2013, a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy handcuffed, arrested and drove three seventh-grade girls from Etiwanda Intermediate School to the police station to “teach the girls a lesson.”

On Friday, Dec. 21, a lawyer for the girls announced the county has paid them $390,000 to settle their lawsuit.

This outcome was all but assured the moment Ortiz decided to start teaching students lessons by performing unconstitutional arrests. The county’s decision to fight the district court’s ruling doesn’t reflect well on it or its legal representation. Somehow the county thought that if it just litigated hard enough, it would somehow talk a court into agreeing law enforcement can arrest people just to “teach them a lesson” — even when those “someones” were teens who committed no crime and posed no safety threat to the school or the idiotic law enforcement officer it had hired.

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Comments on “County Agrees To Pay $390,000 To Students Arrested By A Sheriff 'Just To Prove A Point'”

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25 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

No risk, all possible gain

Somehow the county thought that if it just litigated hard enough, it would somehow talk a court into agreeing law enforcement can arrest people just to "teach them a lesson" — even when those "someones" were teens who committed no crime and posed no safety threat to the school or the idiotic law enforcement officer it had hired.

It was a risk and cost-free proposition for them to argue that, and simply conceding that maybe sheriffs can’t just do whatever they want stood to curb some of the perks of the job.

The ones making the argument, and the one who was the target of the lawsuit aren’t going to be the ones saddled with the bill, so why wouldn’t they have fought this as far as they could, dropping it only when it looked like the court might rule against them(again), which would result in an explicit prohibition against such activity?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Is it possible to countersue?

If they dropped it to avoid an explicit rule, it’d probably be in the service of the public if the suit was continued in order to secure an explicit ruling.

Otherwise, yeah, no one at fault is going to get punished. Did the taxpayers didn’t even get to vote in Deputy Ortiz. I wonder if they got to vote on the guy who hired him.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I guess if we really wanted the citizens to care about cops doing this you need to put it in terms that they seem to care about…

Because of what this asshole did your property taxes just went up $10.

You’d see them at the council meeting with torches and pitchforks… pity they didn’t care that much about the kids being abused like this or the city wasting tax dollars defending the indefensible.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I guess if we really wanted the citizens to care about cops doing this you need to put it in terms that they seem to care about…

Forget about the citizens caring what the cops do, I’m more concerned about the cops caring about acts like this, something they don’t really have to worry about currently since the bill is always laid at someone else’s feet.

Swap this…

Because of what this asshole did your property taxes just went up $10.

Out with this…

Because of what fellow officer/sheriff/deputy X did, the precinct(along with their wages) budget just took a huge hit, and as such there will be no bonuses, raises, or extra pay for overtime this year.’

…. And I imagine behavior would change a lot quicker, with the added bonus that the right people would be paying the penalties for once.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

There’s a guy I used to know. He was one of the worst bullies at my high school. In the same year as me, and he was like that for all four years I was there. I was new in town Freshman year, so I wasn’t there for middle school, but there’s no good reason to believe that he wasn’t like that in middle school too. That kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere.

He’s dead today. He did something really stupid not that long after graduation and it blew up on him.

I can’t help but think, maybe if he had gotten arrested in middle school and had a bit of “scared straight” pounded into his head, maybe if he hadn’t been able to use his charm and athletic talent to escape all responsibility for his misdeeds, just maybe his life would have ended up on a better path.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere.

And it wasn’t likely to just disappear because someone tried to ‘scare them straight’, especially in a situation where, as your comment would seem to imply, they were more than used to talking their way out of personal responsibility, and would just brush the whole thing off as ‘something that would happen to other people’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Arresting someone for actual crimes like assault, theft, vandalism etc is fine, but arresting kids, on no justification, to try to scare them into going straight is against the law. It is also stupid and never works out as intended. I am glad this sheriff finally has the law against him, but it should not have taken 5 years to get this outcome.

MDT (profile) says:

Re: Apples & Oranges

You’re comparing apples and oranges. The only crime the girls were guilty of is being teenage girls and not ‘ratting out’ to a cop. That’s not a crime.

The person you’re describing likely DID commit crimes, and it would have indeed been valid to arrest him.

Part of the problem we have is that schools punishments now days don’t make any sense.

Bite a poptart into a gun, arrest you! Don’t talk to the police, arrest you! Act obnoxious in school in SC, arrest you!

Bully a fellow student, meh, kids will be kids. Make another student’s life a living hell, meh, kids will be kids. Come to school with gang tattoos, meh, I’m afraid of gangs.

How about let’s throw out zero tolerance policies, cops with IQ’s below 100, cops and teachers/admins who can’t pass an emotional stability test, and start dealing with things that really matter in school?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

sounds like the bully was on the right path. it’s not society’s job to correct a bully’s behavior – it’s the parents’.

if this bully would have survived, he might have become a cop – someone with no useful skills and a gun with which to terrorize society and its children, on said society’s dime.

the right path was to a capsule hotel 6′ underground, where this bully couldn’t hurt anyone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think our massive prison population and the high recidivism shows that “scared straight” just does not work for most people.

Proper meeting of essential needs, good education, caring by a loved one, and honest conversations with trained professionals? that will be a much better help to a troubled kid.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is the possibility that ‘scared straight’ works in some instances.

The issue is a matter of judgment. Was this an instance where ‘scared straight’ might work, or even be applicable? 7th graders, in a discussion about bullying. Deputy Ortiz looses.

First, it appears that it was supposed to be a discussion. A discussion means that there would be some back and forth. Discussions are won with clarity and reason. The lesson learned here was ‘I am bigger than you and you are now under arrest because you didn’t agree with whatever premise I proposed.’ Bullying succeeds.

How’s that for a lesson on bullying?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You left out a few items.

1) parents earning a living wage
2) has health care
3) not subjected to constant police bullying
4) encouraged to learn
5) I’m sure there are many more

Our massive prison population, the highest per capita on the entire planet, is due to money grubbers influencing government resulting in a cacophony of “tough on crime” bullshit. This corruption is pervasive and has been in place for centuries. The high recidivism rate is not unexpected given the conditions.

The outrageous “scared straight” programs are stupid, misleading and should end. Perhaps if there were a program to inform out fearless leaders about life in the real world … ahhh but that will never happen because they really do not give a shit.

jimb (profile) says:

Deputy Ortiz

For the sake of the taxpayers of San Bernadino County, I sincerely hope that it is now “ex-Deputy Ortiz”. Why continue the employment of a clearly under-qualified law officer? No matter how good his police skills, he’s proven his judgement sorely lacking. Find a new career, former-Deputy Ortiz, for all your citizen’s sake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even with the settlement, I can’t help but feel like he should have been either fired or retrained for two reason.

The first being that some of those people were victims. So from the victims’ point of view… The person there to protect them has shown/told them that he doesn’t care/want to protect them and that they should just ‘grow up’ by submitting to the people that wish to bully them. That line of thought can do real harm to those girls in the future.

Then there is the bullies’ point of view… The officer is teaching them that they could abuse the legal system (and possibly other government systems) to further hurt their victims and maybe even keep them from getting away.

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