Local man charges cop with excessive force, files claim against city and Police Department
Chico resident José Saavedra Aguilera and his attorney say a Chico police officer went over the top after he pulled Aguilera over for a traffic stop on the night of Nov. 9.
Aguilera, 19, has filed a claim against the city of Chico and the Police Department that charges he received internal injuries when Officer Dave Genova used excessive force, even though Aguilera complied with the officer’s demands.
According to the claim, Aguilera was driving home to his Locust Street address with three friends at about 10 p.m. Within a short distance of his home—about a block, says his attorney, Mike Bush—Aguilera noticed a police car with its red light on.
Aguilera drove the remaining distance to his home before he pulled over. There, the claim continues, he followed Genova’s commands to exit the car and raise his hands above his head.
“At this point,” the claim reads, “the Officer smashed [Aguilera] in the mouth with his forearm and forced him to the ground. Claimant complied with the demand, but while lying on the ground he was punched repeatedly in the kidneys causing damage to his kidneys.”
The claim goes on to charge that, as a result of Genova’s “unnecessary and excessive use of force, Claimant has suffered physical and emotional distress, has incurred medical expenses, and will incur medical expenses in the future.”
Apparently a neighbor, alerted by the scuffle, came outside with a video camera and taped the altercation. That videotape, or at least a copy of it, is now in the hands of City Attorney Dave Frank, who has viewed it.
The tape, which runs about two minutes and does not tell the whole story, begins with Aguilera lying on his stomach on the side of Locust Street while Genova tries to put handcuffs on him. Genova then punches Aguilera in the side with his fist and tells Aguilera, who does not speak English, “Put your hands behind your back.”
Genova then hits Aguilera again, possibly striking his head against the pavement. At that point Aguilera’s uncle, who is watching from across the street, yells, “Stop it.” Genova responds, “Shut up,” cuffs Aguilera, points back across the street and yells, “If you people don’t do what I say, you’re gonna get hit. It’s none of your business.” He turns his attention back to Aguilera for a moment then looks across the street again and yells, “I’ll tell you what happened later.” Then, “You don’t know what he did. Shut up.”
Aguilera is brought to his feet and led to a squad car. And then three officers, including Genova, are shown huddling together as if discussing what to do next.
It is hard to tell from the tape if Aguilera is resisting Genova, but he is clearly not being combative. There are at least two gaps in the tape, and it does not show what happened before Aguilera was taken to the ground.
Bush said Lt. John Carrillo has conducted an internal investigation into the matter. Bush said he was contacted by the city’s insurance company early on but has heard nothing more on the claim.
Carrillo confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation but said he was limited in what he could say.
He said he has viewed the videotape but could not comment on it. Officer Genova, he said, is a former community outreach officer now working patrol. Genova, who’s been with the department since 1994, pulled Aguilera over for a minor vehicle code infraction, Carrillo said.
Bush said that, according to the ticket issued to Aguilera, he was stopped on suspicion of driving an unregistered vehicle without a driver’s license and for providing a false name.
The city receives numerous claims every year, most for slip-and-fall accidents or branches dropping off city trees and damaging private property. The city either settles a claim or rejects it, which then allows the claimant to file a lawsuit.
In this case, the claim says that Aguilera’s damages are greater than $10,000. The claim was filed on Nov. 19. Bob Koch, the city’s risk and administration projects manager, said the city has 45 days after a claim is filed either to settle or reject it. If it’s rejected, the plaintiff then has six months to file a lawsuit.
“You can’t sue a public entity without giving it time to review the case,” Koch said. “On the other hand, the city can’t sit on a claim forever.”
Koch says claims are typically reviewed and rejected or accepted based on his decision.
“If it seems like our fault,” he said, “we’ll settle it. If we don’t seem to have the liability, I reject the claim.”
However, with certain cases, he said, City Attorney Frank is consulted and asked to review them for liability. That appears to be the situation here, as Frank has reviewed the neighbor’s videotape.
One city insider conceded, “There is something to this case.”
Aguilera’s uncle said his nephew has recovered physically but has developed a fear of the police.
“When ever he sees a police car, he said his legs start to tingle," the uncle said.