A 46-year-old disabled man is suing several Modesto police officers, claiming he was roughed up and arrested after a road rage incident with an undercover officer who had cut him off in traffic. Officers then used the man's own wheelchair as they wheeled him off to the downtown jail a few blocks away.
Salida resident Harvey Holcomb is suing the officers as well as the city in federal court in Fresno for more than $1.35 million. San Jose attorney Anthony Boskovich filed the lawsuit on behalf of Holcomb on July 17.
City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood could not be reached for comment, but it has been her practice not to comment on active litigation. The city's attorney who handles matters involving the police did not return a phone call Friday.
While prosecutors charged Holcomb and his stepson who was a passenger in Holcomb's Toyota RAV4 with misdemeanor resisting arrest, the charges were dismissed. Chief Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy said prosecutors did not take the case to trial because "it was unclear whether they could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt."
The lawsuit claims the officers violated Holcomb's civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act. It also claims the city has failed to provide adequate supervision of its police officers.
The lawsuit names undercover officer Jerry Ramar and officers Kroutil, Cox, Bottoms, Ciccarelli and J. Chandler as defendants.
Ramar was lauded as a hero in 2008, when he shot and killed a father who was beating his young son to death in the middle of a dark country road 15 miles south of Modesto. Ramar was the tactical officer on board a Sheriff's Department helicopter, which was responding to a report of a man beating his son.
Based on the lawsuit, Ramar's police report and Boskovich, this is what took place on the afternoon of May 7, 2012, in downtown Modesto:
Holcomb was driving his sport utility vehicle west on F Street when Ramar pulled in front of him while turning left from the Police Department's parking lot. Ramar was driving a beat-up, older, unmarked car.
Holcomb slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting Ramar. Holcomb said he was driving the speed limit, but Ramar said Holcomb was speeding. Ramar added that Holcomb honked his horn at him. Holcomb said Ramar "glowered at him in a menacing manner" and Holcomb told Ramar "what he thought of him and drove on his way."
Ramar made a U-turn and followed Holcomb, who parked alongside the curb so his stepson, Bryan Turner, could look for his cell phone. The contents in the SUV had scattered because of the sudden stop.
Ramar claimed Holcomb failed to park within 18 inches of the curb. Ramar, who had put on his police vest, approached the SUV on foot. Holcomb started to pull himself out of his SUV.
Boskovich said his client has severe high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis, and is on Social Security disability. He said Holcomb on occasion uses a walker or wheelchair and had his wheelchair in his SUV.
Ramar, who had called for backup, said he identified himself as a police officer but claimed Holcomb raised his hands as though he wanted to fight, swore at him, and refused to get back into his vehicle despite repeated commands to do so. Boskovich said Holcomb did not know Ramar was an officer.
Ramar and a second officer pulled Holcomb away from his SUV and bent him over the hood of the police car, where they handcuffed him. The lawsuit claims the officers used force to subdue Holcomb, which Ramar denied. Ramar wrote in his police report:
"Holcomb was bent over the patrol vehicle when he fell to the ground. No police officer forced him to the ground. He said that he could not hold himself up and needed a wheelchair to walk. This statement was in direct conflict to the observations that I had. Holcomb was able to stand and took a fighting stance."
Boskovich said his client had gotten out of the hospital two days before this incident and the only way he could have engaged someone in a fistfight is if other people held him up.
"There is no doubt that Mr. Holcomb has limited mobility," said Boskovich, who represented three Patterson residents who settled a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department in 2010 for $165,000.
Officers ordered Holcomb to stand up but he yelled he was a "f***ing cripple," according to the lawsuit and Boskovich.
"There is no doubt he was angry and mouthy; he's a country boy who uses profanity," Boskovich said about his client.
The lawsuit claims officers ridiculed Holcomb until they realized he could not walk and put him in his wheelchair to take him to the downtown jail.
Turner, the stepson, did not get back into the SUV when ordered but was arrested without incident.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.