A wheelchair-bound legless man who was Tasered by a Merced police officer has filed a claim against the city of Merced, possibly signaling a future lawsuit.
The claim was filed with the city March 11 by attorneys for Gregory Williams, 41. Williams was shocked by a Merced police officer with a Taser, after police responded to his apartment on Sept. 11 to investigate a domestic violence call.
In the claim, Williams accuses police of excessive force, false arrest and violating his civil rights with "intentional, malicious, and oppressive" disregard. The claim seeks damages "over $25,000."
The city has until April 24 to either reject or accept the claim.
Dale Long Allen Jr., the San Francisco-based attorney the city has hired in the case, said he expects the city will reject the claim.
Allen said the officers involved in the incident were legally justified, adding that police were responding to a domestic violence call and were concerned for the safety of Williams' child. According to a police report, officers also had information that drug use may have been happening in the apartment, in front of the child.
Williams wouldn't cooperate with police, Allen said. "The bottom line is, (Williams) was not under control," Allen said. "(The officers) did not know he didn't have a weapon, or access to a weapon in his immediate reach, and they were trying to get to a small child to check on her well-being."
Allen said it's still too early to tell if there could be a settlement, if a civil suit is filed against the city.
John Burris, Williams' Oakland-based attorney, couldn't be reached at press time for comment.
Stockton-based attorney David Drivon, who is also representing Williams, declined comment about the claim. "I'm not going to comment on the substantive issues related to the case," Drivon said.
In the claim, Williams alleges police responded to his 2355 K St. apartment to investigate a report of a domestic disturbance. Williams' wife, Demetrice Shaunt'e Pfifer, claimed he'd punched her three times in the stomach with a closed fist. Williams denied punching his wife, saying neither party had assaulted the other, according to the claim's description of the event.
A staff member from Merced County Child Protective Services arrived at the scene, saying she was there to investigate reports of drug use and domestic violence happening in front of the child, allegations that Williams denied.
After Williams refused to answer any more questions, Officer John Pinnegar threatened to use his Taser. "Moments later, Officer Pinnegar deployed his taser [sic] and tased Mr. Williams to the shock and horror of the apartment complex's residents," the claim states.
"Unfortunately, the indignation and humiliation did not end there. Officer Pinnegar removed Mr. Williams from his wheelchair and handcuffed him, leaving him lying on the ground with his pants below his waist and genitals showing for the stunned crowd of onlookers to see," the claim continues.
The claim goes on to note that no charges were filed by the Merced County District Attorney's Office against Williams for the Sept. 11. incident.
Williams was later arrested, however, for a domestic violence incident that allegedly had happened earlier, on Sept. 6. Prosecutors said Merced police discovered evidence of the alleged abuse while they were conducting the internal investigation into the Taser incident.
The evidence includes statements from Williams' wife and her family, as well as photographs of injuries. Williams allegedly hit his wife with a broomstick during an argument, jumped on her and attempted to strangle her, according to prosecutors.
Williams' attorney, Hayden Smith, said his client denies the charges, maintaining it was he who was attacked by Pfifer. Smith pointed out that Williams' wife already has a documented history of allegedly abusing her husband.
Williams is facing three felony counts: corporal injury to a spouse, assault with a deadly weapon and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. He's free on bail.
If the claim is rejected, the law allows Williams six months to file a lawsuit with the state, or two years from the date of the incident to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.