A Northern California police department at the center of an investigation into racist text messages is once again being accused of misconduct after a couple filed a lawsuit alleging they were beaten during an illegal arrest.
Juan Laspada and his fiancee, Rebecca Rodriguez, said they were waiting for an Uber outside their friend’s apartment on Feb. 25, 2022, when Antioch police officers stopped and asked if they were okay, according to a federal lawsuit filed Saturday.
They told officers they were okay and were waiting for their Uber, according to the lawsuit. The officers, who were not named in the lawsuit, asked to speak with Laspada, he says.
He told them he didn’t want to talk and started to walk away. The lawsuit alleges that the officers then grabbed him, threw him to the ground, placed him in «a prone position on his stomach,» struck him multiple times in the face, body, and ear, and struck him with their knees.
It says Laspada was handcuffed and while he was on the ground, an officer placed the weight of his body on the man’s back, «restricting his ability to breathe and causing him to scream in pain.»
In an interview with the San Francisco television station KRONLaspada said he told the officer he didn’t want to talk because the officer seemed angry.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to go ahead and walk away because your veins are coming out of your neck. You’re angry, and this is going to turn into something bad. So I’m going to go,’” she said.
«When I went for a walk, he slammed me into the ground… and he kept hitting me and hitting me. When I was on the ground and I was getting hit over and over again, I was like, ‘When is it? Is it going to stop? When are you going to stop hitting me?'» Laspada told KRON.
Part of the incident was captured on cell phone video and obtained by the news station. In the footage, two officers appear to push Rodríguez. One of the officers is on top of Laspada while he is on the ground and appears to hit him.
The lawsuit alleges that Rodriguez feared Laspada would be killed and pleaded with officers to stop. In response to her plea, one of the officers «hit Rebecca Rodríguez across her face and knocked her to the ground,» she says.
The Antioch Police Department and the police union did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Rodriguez was taken to the police station, summoned and ordered to appear in court, according to the lawsuit, which says the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges. The prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached.
Laspada was taken to the hospital where he was evaluated and released without charge, according to the lawsuit, which says he had bruises on his body and bleeding from his inner ear. The filing also alleges that the officers searched his backpack without a warrant or his consent.
The couple, who identify as Latinx, said they believe officers racially profiled them, according to the lawsuit.
Most of the approximately 114,000 residents of Antioch, about 45 miles northeast of San Francisco, are minorities, according to US Census figures.
The lawsuit says that police had no reason to suspect that Laspada had committed a crime and did not have probable cause to arrest him and his fiancée.
“It is alleged in good faith belief that plaintiff Juan Laspeda was grabbed, thrown to the ground, and beaten for exercising his right to interrupt his conversation and walk away from the officer(s),” the lawsuit states.
It further alleges that the officers’ conduct was «in knowing and reckless disregard of the risk of injury and, given the circumstances, there was no factually reasonable basis for the defendants’ actions.»
Laspada, Rodríguez and their lawyers could not be reached. The lawsuit names the city of Antioch and several unnamed officers as defendants and alleges excessive force, false arrest, false arrest, illegal search and racial profiling.
The lawsuit is the latest misconduct claim against the police department. Earlier this month, an investigative report compiled by the prosecutor’s office was published that showed more than a dozen officers were under investigation for allegedly using racial epithets and homophobic slurs, sharing racist images, and casually discussing the use of «less-lethal» weapons on people, including the city’s mayor, who is black. .
The report led the Antioch City Council to unanimously pass audits of the department’s internal affairs unit, its hiring and promotion practices, and the department’s culture.
Antioch Police Chief Steve Ford issued a statement condemning the «racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department in media reports.»