Butte County’s Rodney King?
Paradise man files lawsuit against two sheriff’s deputies for arrest caught on videotape
When A.J. Fulton and his family walked into Gold Country Casino on a warm summer evening last July, they were looking for a good time. But they found something else. The evening of fun turned into a nightmare when two Butte County sheriff’s deputies beat Fulton into submission and arrested him on two charges of assault on a police officer.
It was all recorded for posterity by the casino’s strategically placed security video cameras.
This week, holding up the videotape as evidence, Fulton filed a civil suit in federal court naming Butte County, the Sheriff’s Department and the two deputies who subdued and arrested him as defendants.
The outing took place on Friday, July 21. It was payday for Fulton, a Paradise laborer. Feeling rich and lucky, he and his stepfather, Fidel Molina, decided to have a few drinks at a Paradise bar before heading to the Oroville casino with their wives. Everyone was feeling festive. Fulton’s father, Andy, was visiting from out of town and would join the group at the casino.
But almost as soon as they arrived, the evening began to derail.
Trouble began when security guards panning the parking lot with video cameras noticed that Fulton and Molina appeared inebriated as they walked toward the casino. The guards requested that security personnel escort them out as soon as they entered the casino, Fulton said.
The video surveillance of Fulton continued and followed him through the casino as four uniformed guards escorted him back out. Although the video is silent, it’s clear that Fulton is getting increasingly angry as he’s escorted outside.
In the video, he raises his arms, gestures and occasionally shouts at the guards, who show patience and give him wide berth as he and Molina stand in the parking lot, waiting for their wives to join them. Then Fulton, who is restrained at times by Molina, stomps back to the casino doors. The guards follow, surround him and then talk to him on the casino steps. Fulton sits down on one of the steps for a few minutes. His father Andy joins the scene. Then Fulton stands up, breaks away from Molina’s restraint and walks back to the parking lot.
According to the lawsuit, at that point Molina told Fulton to wait in their pickup truck. Again, the security guards follow Fulton at a distance. Fulton spins, gestures and tucks in his shirt before he finally reaches the truck, climbs into the passenger side and takes a seat. He leaves the truck door open.
Suddenly two Butte County deputies appear in the video and approach the front of the truck, one with his gun drawn and pointed at Fulton. Fulton emerges from the truck, then gets back in. The deputy holsters his weapon and reaches back with his hand extended, palm side up. The other deputy hands him something that would appear to be a canister of pepper spray. The deputy then walks up to the passenger door and, according to the suit, proceeds to spray Fulton, who gets out of the truck and pushes the deputy. Fulton is then quickly and violently wrestled away from the truck, bounced off the car parked next to it and then thrown down onto parking lot. Fulton continues to struggle, and, while one officer applies handcuffs, the other strikes Fulton with his baton.
Seeing this, Fulton’s father, Andy, approaches the baton-wielding deputy who takes a swing at him, striking his upraised hand. He then kicks at the deputy in retaliation. The deputy orders the senior Fulton to lie on the ground. He complies. Molina, who is standing nearby, is then ordered to lie down. Both men are handcuffed behind their backs, and left lying on their stomachs. In the meantime, the younger Fulton has slipped his cuffed hands from behind his back and rolled over with his hands in front of him. The deputies respond. He tries to stand and is taken back down. One of the deputies kneels on his shoulder blades and places him in a chokehold.
Fulton contends that he passed out at this point and came to only when the deputy bounced on his spine and taunted him. It’s difficult to tell exactly what Fulton’s condition is on the tape, though it’s clear that his eyes are closed, his head is thrown back and his body is prone in the parking lot. When Fulton is clearly subdued, paramedics enter the scene and treat his bloodied face.
And that, Fulton said, is why he filed a lawsuit in federal court June 8, charging that the two sheriff’s deputies used “extreme” excessive force when arresting him.
According to the lawsuit, casino security guards called the Sheriff’s Department, asking for backup. The tape shows that deputies Bryant Lange and Grant Kyle arrived at about 7:40 p.m., just after Fulton climbed into the passenger seat of his truck. He said he just wanted to “just go home,” and that the aggression he’d displayed earlier had waned.
“I just wanted out of there,” he said. “I just wanted everyone to leave me alone.”
Molina said he was afraid they were going to kill Fulton.
“I just kept saying, ‘You’re killing him!'” he said. “I mean, it was really scary stuff.”
Chico attorney Mike Bush, who took Fulton’s case on contingency, said he’s surprised that Fulton didn’t die in the incident.
“They came out ready to attack this kid,” Bush said. “This could have been fatal. … They’re lucky it wasn’t.”
Fulton, 28, claims that he suffered some brain damage and permanent damage to his eyesight as a result of his injuries. He required 11 stitches above his eyebrow from the baton’s blows. Pictures taken the day after the incident illustrate substantial injury. His left eye is swollen shut and purple. His right eye is red, his jaw is swollen and his forehead is scraped and scabbed.
Fulton was arrested and charged with two felony counts of assault on a police officer and resisting arrest—charges that will be heard at a trial scheduled for this fall. His father was also arrested that night and charged with assaulting a police officer, although the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. Molina was charged with resisting arrest and trying to incite a riot and is scheduled for trial on Aug. 13.
Representatives from Gold Country Casino, which is not named in Fulton’s suit, could not be reached for comment.
Fulton’s suit names deputies Kyle and Lange as defendants, along with Butte County, Sheriff Scott Mackenzie and his department. It asks for attorney’s fees and special and punitive damages and demands a jury trial. Fulton said he expects the settlement to be “six figures.”
“But it’s not about the money," Fulton said. "It’s about getting justice and making them pay for what they did to me."