by Harry Stern, Rains Lucia Stern, PC, Managing Partner
The Mendocino County Civil Service Commission reversed Sergeant Derek Scott’s demotion to Deputy II, citing excessive discipline, after Scott allegedly failed to supervise two senior deputies in a minor use of force incident.
Shortly after midnight on January 13, 2010, Deputies Orell Massey and Derek Paoli of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) conducted a traffic enforcement stop on a car with a mechanical violation. They found that the driver, Michelle Jackson, was operating the vehicle with a suspended license, and the deputies suspected Jackson to be under the influence of alcohol and a controlled substance. When Jackson refused a Preliminary Alcohol Screening test, Deputies Massey and Paoli placed the suspect under arrest and escorted her back to the MCSO station.
Back at the station, Deputy Massey conducted a narcotic evaluation, noting objective symptoms of stimulant use. Massey also detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Jackson’s person. Jackson, however, refused to submit to a urine test. The deputies then transported the suspect to the Ukiah Valley Medical Center (UVMC) to conduct a blood draw. Once at the medical center, Jackson continued to refuse the procedure, and as a result, was forced onto an examination bed. At this point, Jackson began to physically resist, screaming and kicking, injuring Deputy Massey’s finger.
With the situation escalating and posing a threat to the officers and hospital staff, Deputy Paoli contacted Sergeant Scott, the shift supervisor, to obtain permission to perform a drive stun on Jackson. At the time, Scott was in the process of responding to a robbery. Deputy Paoli advised Scott of the situation: Jackson was combative, refused a blood draw and kicked Deputy Massey. Paoli also expressed concern for the nurse’s safety. Scott granted the officers permission to perform a drive stun.
The officers verbally warned Jackson that she would be tased, but the suspect still refused to cooperate. Paoli removed the cartridge from his taser, placed the end of the taser on Jackson’s stomach over her clothing, and applied an electrical charge. Jackson did not respond to the drive stun and continued to resist the deputies and the nurse. At that time, a 6’ 5”, 300-pound male nurse arrived on scene. Together, the male nurse and Deputies Massey and Paoli restrained Jackson enough so that a second nurse could draw blood. The deputies then transported Jackson to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Jail for booking.
Although Jackson did not file a complaint against the officers, nor was she injured during the blood draw, MCSO conducted an investigation. Sheriff Allman concluded that Sergeant Scott failed to properly supervise two deputies during a situation which involved questionable use of force. Scott was demoted to Deputy II and suspended without pay for two weeks.
The hearing took place on August 18, 2010 before all five members of the Civil Service Commission of Mendocino County.
Among the first to testify were those present during the incident. Both Deputies Massey and Paoli confirmed Jackson’s refusal of preliminary drug screening procedures and her physical resistance to the blood draw at the UVMC. The nurse that attempted to draw blood from Jackson followed the deputies. She corroborated their testimony, noting that Jackson was out of control. The nurse added that she feared Jackson would kick and injure her while drawing blood.
Sheriff Allman, who imposed Scott’s discipline, also testified. He noted four reasons for Sergeant Scott’s demotion: first, Scott did not attempt to better understand the situation at the UVMC when Paoli called; second, Scott failed to go to the medical center before approving the use of a taser; third, Scott failed to properly reference the audio recording in the crime report; and finally, Scott lodged the audio recording twelve days after the incident. In a contradictory statement, however, Allman stated that he hoped Scott would reapply for any Sergeant positions which became available in the future.
In my closing, taking all the testimony into account, I argued that Scott had not been negligent in his supervisorial role. At the time of the incident, Scott was responding to a burglary. If Scott had left and gone to the UVMC, three of four deputies on duty that night in the Ukiah Valley would have been responding to the matter. The sergeant trusted his deputies and had already received all information needed from Deputy Paoli to make a decision. Moreover, Scott’s absence of prior misconduct, as well as his positive character and performance evaluations, should preclude such harsh disciplinary action. Finally, Deputy Massey’s and Deputy Paoli’s use of the taser fell within constitutional bounds.
The Commission reversed in part and modified in part Sheriff Allman’s decision. The Commission found that Scott did not willfully fail to exercise adequate judgment, but rather made a good faith effort to exercise reasonable judgment. Additionally, the Commission noted that Scott was in the process of investigating a crime and would have had to terminate his investigation to go to the UVMC. Scott should have, however, reviewed crime report more thoroughly. The Commission called Scott’s demotion to Deputy “excessive discipline,” reinstating him to Sergeant.
Sergeant Scott was of course, pleased to be reinstated to his former position. Scott exercised reasonable judgment throughout the incident and only wanted fair treatment. Scott was greatly appreciative of the assistance of Rains Lucia Stern and LDF.