A commander with the Merced Police Department has been accused of being involved in the unlawful arrest of a man in 2006 for malicious reasons and may have altered police reports while he was a lieutenant with the Fort Bragg Police Department, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed in December 2009 in U.S. District Court, Northern California District.
Cmdr. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department denies the charges. Higdon worked in Fort Bragg from 1981 to 2006.
The lawsuit was filed by Robert Forest, who was a reserve officer with the Fort Bragg Police Department from 1987 to 1988 and worked with Higdon during that time.
Forest was arrested in 2006 for pulling a gun on a homeless man who had allegedly threatened him, Forest said in the lawsuit. Forest claims it was self-defense.
Forest was charged with felony assault with a firearm, but his case in Mendocino County Superior Court was dismissed for lack of evidence in 2008, according to a spokesman with the Mendocino District Attorney's Office.
Now Forest is alleging that not only was he unlawfully arrested and evidence and files were tampered with to foster a conviction in the case, but also that Higdon maliciously arrested him because of a personal dislike. The case also alleges that tampering with police reports after the fact is a common practice in the Fort Bragg Police Department.
Higdon, who denied the charges, had little to say on the matter. "I would deny the allegations," he said.
The lawyer representing the city of Fort Bragg, the Fort Bragg Police Department and Higdon in the case had little to add as well. "We try cases in the courtroom, not in the newspaper," said Nancy Delaney. "We believe the complaint to be unfounded and expect that will be the ultimate outcome."
The Fort Bragg Police Department did not return calls for comment.
On Nov. 8, 2006, Forest claims he used his gun, which he was permitted to carry, in self-defense after Stanley Douglass, a homeless man, assaulted him, according to the lawsuit.
After this scuffle, Forest was contacted by the Fort Bragg police. The next day he showed up at the police station for what he thought would be a routine interview in regard to Douglass' assault against him. But after giving a statement, Forest was arrested by Sgt. Brandon Lee. The suit states the arrest was made by order of then-Lt. Higdon.
Lee, the suit states, wanted to book Forest and then release him on bail, but Higdon insisted Forest be taken to the county jail in Ukiah. Lee prevailed and Forest was released from the Fort Bragg Jail on $30,000 bail.
The lawsuit goes on to say Higdon and Forest, who had worked together for a time when Forest was a reserve officer, had had personal and professional disagreements.
The Mendocino County District Attorney's Office filed a felony criminal complaint against Forest in December 2006 for assault with a firearm. The charges were based on police reports and evidence supplied by the Fort Bragg Police Department.
Forest's case was dismissed in January 2008 because there was insufficient evidence, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.
The federal lawsuit alleges the police reports supplied to the district attorney had been changed and falsified to strengthen the case against Forest. The lawsuit also alleges Lee said in an e-mail his initial arrest reports had been changed.
Higdon denies altering or changing any files.
The suit is asking for a jury trial and an unknown amount of money.
Donald Walker, who is representing Forest, said he hopes the case can be resolved without going to court.
The case is scheduled for a conference date in April in the Eureka branch of the U.S. District Court.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.