In this case, the Department originally proposed a 20-day suspension without pay for excessive force. The discipline was reduced to five days based on arguments presented at Teague’s Skelly hearing, but any discipline was unacceptable. Some may consider disciplinary cases involving only a five-day suspension without pay insignificant. However, allegations sustained by your department can tarnish your career and your reputation. Excessive-force cases are always significant because the sustained charge is extremely stigmatizing to the officer’s character and judgment. No officer wants such a derogative label attached to his file. William Teague, a veteran Stockton Police Officer, was fully exonerated of excessive-force charges after an arbitrator found he acted appropriately and used reasonable force. Arbitrator Katherine Harris ordered that the five-day suspension be overturned following two days of hearings in which we established Teague was suspended despite lack of evidence he had engaged in misconduct warranting discipline. The binding arbitration decision overturned the discipline in total and ordered appropriate back pay and benefits.
Teague was paired with another officer on the night in question. They were backing officers on a foot pursuit call when a separate radio call for help came out from other officers. Teague could tell that the officer on the radio was fighting with someone by his tone and the rapid breathing during the radio transmission. Upon arrival, Teague observed officers struggling with a suspect who was prone on the roadway. The suspect was not under control; he was pushing himself off the ground and his legs were swinging and kicking. One officer was struggling with the legs and another officer was struggling with the right arm. The suspect was yelling and cursing.
Teague’s partner went to assist with the legs. Teague focused on the left arm opposite the officer struggling with the right arm. Teague observed the suspect kick one officer in the chest. Both officers looked fatigued and very out of breath, and they were groaning in their efforts to get control of the suspect. Officers were yelling for the suspect to stop resisting, but he wouldn’t comply. Teague heard a Taser being deployed on the suspect as he was on his knees struggling with the suspect. While Teague was on his knees to grapple, the suspect turned his face toward him, gathered bloody saliva and spit at Teague. Teague reacted to the spitting assault by moving slightly toward the suspect’s head and delivering two or three 30% to 40% power fist strikes to the suspect’s face. The suspect turned his face away from Teague, and Teague stopped using the strikes. Teague then refocused on the left arm, and eventually the suspect was handcuffed. When supervisors arrived on scene, Teague told them about his use of the fist strikes. The fist strikes were also described in Teague’s police report.
Police Chief Blair Ulring relied heavily on the injuries sustained by the suspect, the number of officers present and the opinion of an outside use-of-force trainer he hired to give testimony as the basis for his decision. However, California courts have consistently recognized the difficult position peace officers are placed in. In Brown v. Ranswiler (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 516, 527-528, the Court stated, “The question is whether a peace officer’s actions were objectively reasonable based on the facts and circumstances confronting the peace officer. The possibility of alternative uses of force is not relevant; there is no requirement to use ‘perfect force.’ The test is ‘highly deferential to the police officer’s need to protect himself and others.’”
It was established at the hearing that the outside trainer hired by Chief Ulring was not recognized as a use-of-force expert. Chief Ulring disregarded the opinion of every use-of-force instructor on the Department in coming to his decision. In fact, the City stipulated to the cumulative testimony that “in house” use-of-force instructors were of the opinion Teague’s use of force was reasonable. We called widely recognized use-of-force expert David Rose as a witness. He testified the use of force was reasonable as described by Teague, and as described by the other officers on scene. He was able to show the use of force was consistent with POST standards, Department policy and past training received by Teague. Evidence at the hearing established all the officers used various force on the suspect during the takedown and struggle. The City was unable to prove any of the injuries were caused by Teague’s use of force.
Similarly, the number of officers present was not relevant. What was relevant was whether the suspect was under control, the only requirement being that the officer used reasonable force. In the case of Graham v. Connor (1989) 490 U.S. 386, the Court set forth the standard for determining whether an officer’s use of force is reasonable. The Court stated, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.” Teague’s circumstances fit squarely within the Graham case.
The suspect was resisting arrest and battering peace officers. Teague had to assume he might have been under arrest for even more serious crimes. The suspect was resisting and combative; he might even have been trying to escape. The suspect was assaulting Teague and continuing to batter the other officers. In addition, Teague needed to get control of the suspect’s unsecured right arm. All the conditions of Graham were met. The crime was severe. The suspect posed an immediate threat to the officers. Teague had to make a split-second decision in a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstance.
Specifically, he had to decide how best to address the spitting assault so he could focus on the other serious danger, the suspect’s right arm. He elected to make several quick fist strikes to the suspect’s face at 30% to 40% force. After the second or third strike, the suspect turned his head away and was no longer in a position to spit on Teague. Teague discontinued the strikes and began trying to control the suspect’s arm. It is significant to note that Teague was using restraint. He was using 30% to 40% force. He was not trying to knock the suspect out; he was not trying to injure him. Teague discontinued the strikes as soon as the threat was eliminated.
As the case was unraveled, it was clear that Internal Affairs jumped to conclusions without considering all the facts. Harris stated in her decision, “There is not one iota of evidence that the Grievant administered the fist strikes with the intent to injure the suspect. Rather, the totality of the evidence leads to the conclusion that the Grievant was merely doing his best to protect himself from injury and subdue a violent suspect.” She ruled as follows: “Thus, the Arbitrator credits Rose’s opinion that an officer is only required to select a force option which is reasonable under the circumstances and that the force option selected by the Grievant, i.e., two to three fist strikes at 30% to 40% capacity to the face, was reasonable under these facts and circumstances.” Arbitrator Harris ordered back pay and benefits in a binding arbitration decision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Welty is a former Yuba City Police Officer who specializes in labor and employment law representation and disability retirement litigation. He is a Senior Associate of the Labor Department at Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen. He represented William Teague throughout the arbitration proceedings in this case.
PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.
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LDF assisted by taking a stressful situation and calmed it down by thoroughly explaining the entire process. It was nice to know that I had an ally when I was sure that I was alone.
- Roman Fernandez Inglewood POA
My representatives were always well-prepared and organized for hearings and meetings. Their efforts, hard work and full support is truly appreciated.
- Steven Moorehouse Redding POA
You guys are Great! Very professional and well informed. THANK YOU!
- Stephanie Haas Lyon Co SEA
When I first contacted LDF re: my case I was unsure of how well/poor I'd actually be represented. I was impressed beyond belief. From the timely responses from my attorney, his knowledge in my case, advising me what my rights were and where I stood. I felt like I was genuinely being protected from unwarranted and unfounded accusations and believe, as long as I am in the right, I have someone fighting for me. Thank you, Thank you.
- Jason Boust Sanger POA
My rep was very helpful in explaining the processes and stayed in contact throughout the ordeal.
- Robert Muelberg Denver PPA
I could not have had a better attorney. [My representative ] went way above and beyond his duties. I would not have had a better experience with my representative. I believe that the LDF is the single most important benefit a police officer could have!
- Larry Fitch Shasta Co DSA
My LDF rep was great, always returned my calls quickly and kept me up to date with what was going on with the case. Thank you.
- Kerry Carlson Midpeninsula Ranger POA
I have held leadership positions in our POA most of my career. Because of my role as President and Vice President I have been a target to management. I feel that if it were not for LDF I wouldn't have a job
- Brendan Dolan Milwaukee PA
Everything went very smooth and they handled everything! Thank you.
- Michael Sexton Manteca POA
[My representative] was awesome.
- Gary J. Foppiano Oakland POA
[My representative] has been in my corner for 28 years. I have been represented by this firm probably 6 times in my career from minor to major discipline cases with a great outcome for me. They're batting 100%
- Dwayne Sue Oakland POA
[My representative was] great! She kept me informed and was very professional. She would be my choice if I should need her services in the future! (But I hope I won't) Thanks!
- Jurell Snyder Oakland POA
My LDF representative had a power point presentation, which was extremely professional.
- Martha Tschetter Carson City Sheriffs PA
The LDF process was painless and I was able to get immediate representation in an urgent time of need. Thank you LDF
- Robert Hartman Contra Costa Co DSA
Quick response, experienced and knowledgeable attorney which assisted in every step. [My representative] kept me apprised through the process. Thank you.
- Scott Cox Tulare Co DSA
I just want to say [my representative] did a great job! Thank you.
- Cathleen Weldon Siskiyou Correctional POA
Very Comforting to have a knowledgeable person looking out for my best inerests. Thx!
- Steven Curtiss Shasta Co DSA
This was my first need for LDF support and I was very happy with the level of service. Thank you.
- Richard Salcido Brea PA
LDF is a great organization that not only helps their clients but many of those around them such as coworkers and family members.
- Joseph A. Henderson Merced POA
The firm I used was very valuable to my career and kept me updated as to status of the case. Thank you!
- Clyde Williams San Diego Harbor POA
Thank you for all of the work related to my officer involved shooting case.
- Robert Glock Oakland POA
I am always satisfied with LDF and all their representatives.
- RIchard Okeson Hesperia USD POA
I can't express how satisfying and comforting it was to have such a well qualified and pleasant attorney at my side. Thank you so much for everything you did for me, and if you can, please thank [ my representative] again for being there for me.
- Scott Muir Tracy POA
Very satisfied with the service I was given.
- Marshall Henderson Vancouver Police Officers Guild
I have used LDF in 3 OIS's. Each time I have been very well taken care of. I highly recommend [ representative ] and the PORAC system. Well done and thank you.
- Sherri Coral Riverside Community College
He was very professional. I trusted him to defend and he did! I am very thankful he was here for me.
- Emery Eccle Culver City POA
LDF is THE most important asset / resource that police officers have. "Thank you" to all involved and keep up the good work!
- Kim Prout Upland Firefighters Assoc
It was great comfort to know somebody would be there for me in this matter. I was able to finally sleep @ night & wake up with confidence that I would be ok. Thanks.
- Michael Shephard Suisun City POA
LDF is a very valuable resource. I would not do this job without it.
- Caitlin Collins Tiburon POA
[My representative] made himself available 7 days a week understanding that those were my needs. He was very well informed and kept me on the right track and in the right frame of mind.
- Melissa Geraci Oakland POA
This is my 1st time using LDF and was very pleased with the service I got. [My representative] was so friendly & always returned my calls & even called to update me without provocation.
- Kristen Patterson Contra Costa Co Prob. Assn.
[My representative] was helpful and made me feel supported. I got the results I desired. Very pleased with the process.
- Greg Harman Kensington POA
[My representative] is the best!!
- Dan Lovelace Chandler LEA
Thank you for the funding and support. I would be in jail right now if it were not for LDF. I would not have had the funding to pay for the case. It was a tremendous help having [my representative] and his support team and the many experts supplied by LDF. I speak for myself, my family and other members of my association.
- Andrea Salas Sonoma County DSA
[My Representative] was great! Thank you.
- Christopher Boyd Carlsbad POA
[My representative] was an outstanding attorney to work with. Even though I did not receive a desirable outcome entirely, I was exceptionally satisfied with his representation. Thank you.
- Sean Tinney Berkeley PA
[My representative] was very attentive to my case and thorough with his investigation. I would request [him] again in the future.
- Grace Castro AFGE Local 2455 – Laredo, TX
My representative was very kind and showed he cared when explaining what my legal rights were when dealing with an internal investigation.
- Christine Farmer Tehama Co DSA
Mine was a fairly simple situation and I may not have needed representative. I am glad I called for help, it gave me peace of mind and reassurance.
- Micheal Chad Heiser Santa Rosa POA
LDF is a valuable resource that no law enforcement officer should be without.
- Robert Curato Anderson POA
He did a great job for me!!! He always returned my phone calls within 24-hours. He showed an interest in my case and we were able to get the issue resolved in less than 45 minutes. Thank you for being there when I needed the legal assistance.
- Jason Kearsing Elk Grove POA
Very happy with LDF.
- Dan McDow San Luis Obispo POA
[My representative] is the poster face representative of the greatest attorney (representative) that anyone could possibly ask for. She gets a 12 out of 10 star rating. Nobody works harder.
- Rachael Van Sloten Oakland POA
LDF is absolutely essential to help make a system that is somewhat broken work more effectively. [My Representative] is excellent and takes a great deal of time to lisen and represent.
- Yvonne Heuston ERS/SPPOA Supervisors
My representative was outstanding and knew what to lookout for and how to handle situations as they appeared. He told me what to expect and how he proposed to handle the hurdles. Just telling what to expect helped put me at ease as the situation was so foreign to me, and intimidating.
- Erik Kusmerz Lyon Co SEA
Amazing job, Thank you.
- Marco Flores Ventura County PPOA
Great program. I was lost until the attorneys explained the situation. I was very impressed and satisfied. Thanks LDF.
- Brad Young Oakland POA
[ My representative ] is an awesome attorney.
- Gregg Palmer San Joaquin Co Corr POA
Everything was explained very well prior to my questioning. I was not worried at all during the investigation. Very professional and a great asset to its members.
- Ronald J. Danison El Monte POA
The LDF is a tool available to me which I hope never goes away. It makes me feel that much more confident to do my job knowing LDF has my back when police work gets ugly. And it usually does..
- Ricky L. Hemphill Los Angeles School PA
[My representative] was an excellent lawyer.
- Brad Young Oakland POA
[My representative] is an excellent attorney and I am very happy he picks up the phone and answers my questions whenever possible.
- Alfredo Hernandez El Centro POA
[My representative] was very attentive, [informative] and knowledgeable. He spoke very clearly and explained things in ways easy to understand. [He] made me feel like he truly cared about what was going on with this case and me. Not to mention [he] was funny and witty, traits which made him trustworthy and someone who would stand by me and other police officers.
- Nicholas Ward Antioch POA
[ Representative ] did a great job. My case was extremely complicated and difficult. She did a great job.
- Steven E. Lopez Santa Maria POA
Keep up the Good Work! Your service was extremely helpful to me. Thank you.
- Patrick Davis Oakland POA
Very knowledgeable and thorough and would use the rep again.
- Nancy Page Aurora PA
I didn't end up needing his service but he was awesome in what conversations we had before the matter was resolved. Very valuable - LDF!
- Robin Gonzalez Yolo Co. DSA
[My representative was] very quick to respond, helpful and professional. Thank you!
- Todd Costa Santa Clara Co DSA
This was my first Internal Affairs investigation, my lawyer walked me through every step and answered all of my questions, without my lawyer's advice, I would have been lost throughout the investigation and a complete disadvantage against my department.