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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Dear PORAC Legal Defense Fund, This email has been weighing on my heart and should have been sent a long time ago. However, time seems to move fast even though your life has been put on hold. I have been on administrative leave since December of 2012. In April of 2013, I was arrested for the performance of my duties. Since the administrative side this case has not been resolved, I won't be getting into specific details regarding my case. However, I will say that I never thought that my life would turned upside down by doing the job that I love, and doing it in a way that I had been trained. I have been in Law Enforcement for 10 years, and I have been paying my monthly dues all along. I never really understood how important paying dues might be for me, I just thought it was the "cost of business". After being arrested, I understood the real worth of that investment. Because of politics, my case was given the "full court press". On January 3rd of 2014, the case against me was dismissed. It took no less than 5 experts to convince the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office to request dismissal. The time, effort, and money that this case cost couldn't have been endured by me as the sole provider of a family of four. LDF was there, big time. The panel attorney's under LDF were the best in the business. In the uncertain time during the criminal process, I couldn't have imagined how much help they could be. What a relief to know that LDF had my back. I am used to defending those who can't defend themselves. That's my job. When I was defenseless, LDF and the attorneys assigned to my case were my advocates and defenders. I thank you. My criminal attorney said it best at the conclusion of my criminal case: "Adam and his family are thankful that they can now move forward. The evidence showing Sgt. Laird was innocent was overwhelming. The expert EPD hired said that the suspect was rising up when Sgt. Laird pushed him back to the ground. The two experts that the DA’s office hired said that the force was reasonable and appropriate. The defensive tactics instructor who trained Adam said he acted consistent with his training in apprehending a high risk suspect in a dangerous situation. In total, five separate police practices experts reviewed the case and unanimously said Sgt. Laird acted appropriately". "It is hard to imagine what it must be like to risk your life apprehending a known gang member only to be charged with using excessive force when the suspect stated that he did not even feel the contact at issue. It is simply bizarre that Sgt. Laird was ever charged with a crime". Thank you. My family and I will forever be grateful for your service, Sergeant Adam Laird
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My LDF rep was very attentive, and courteous. She made every effort to keep me informed, and kept my best interests at the front of the process. I was very satisfied with my LDF rep, and the entire process.
- Nestor Hernandez San Diego POA
This is a great program designed to protect LEO’s in need
- Evelyn Hooks Shasta CO PPOA
Thank God for the L.D.F.
- Joe Charvez Santa Clara Co DSA
I could not be happier with the interest, work put into my case, and assistance from [my representative]. Thanks !!
- James Hika Border Patrol Supervisors Association
They did a great job!
- Jaime Kim Oakland POA
My rep did a good job. First we met and he explained that there might be culpability on my part but not nothing close to the allegations. I appreciated his honesty as we have all done things that can be taken out of context so it was important he told me to realize that.
- Brian Markert Lakewood Police Indp Guild
I feel that I was very well represented by the LDF regarding a fatal officer involved shooting. Both attorneys assigned to assist me - our guild attorney plus a criminal defense attorney - were very aggressive and helpful. Their work was instrumental in helping me to navigate the criminal and internal investigations so that I could return to full duty status.
- Eric Olson Escondido POA
You guys did an amazing job! Thank you L.D.F. !
- Allison Clark Twin Cities POA
[My representative] is the best attorney LDF has. Her attention to details, professionalism, and intelligence were off the charts. If I did not have her as a rep I would probably be out of a job. She is fair and she was honestly concerned about me, my family and my case.
- Kelly K. Roe San Joaquin Co Corr Officers
[My representative] did a fantastic job at returning my phone calls and keeping me informed of any and all information pertaining to my case. I would recommend him to anyone.
- Keith Stiver Hayward POA
[My representative] brings a superlative reputation, a comforting and confidence building demeanor and a clear expertise to the table. In particular I appreciate her philosophy that she gives her total undivided attention to her clients during their appointments.
- Steven Mayorga Ventura County DSA
I was well represented and very glad to have LDF. Thank you.
- Cathleen Weldon Siskiyou Correctional POA
Very Comforting to have a knowledgeable person looking out for my best inerests. Thx!
- Rachel Tyner Transit EOA of San Diego
All the LDF representatives were very courteous and attentive with a punctual response to all of my concerns, inquiries and appointment scheduling. My representative was very informative about the legalities and kept in contact with me regularly. He was also very patient and straight forward. I would definitely want to use the LDF again and felt more confident through my proceedings because I had representation!
- William Pryor Statewide University PA
Very helpful program. Helped keep department personnel focused on the issue regardless of their personal issues.
- Anthony Alonzo South Gate POA
Very pleased with the way the process was explained to me. Received updated info faster than I expected. Overall a good experience in a not so good situation. Thanks to LDF.
- Gina Romines San Joaquin Co Corr POA
I couldn't have been more satisfied with the representative!
- Byron Kies Santa Barbara Co DSA
Everything was great!
- Carlos Gonzalez Oakland POA
Very well informed group.
- 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.
- 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%
- Scott King Ripon POA
[My representative] is the best LDF rep I have ever had. If I were to need an LDF rep again I would want it to be [my representative].
- Tyler Robins Pasadena City College POA
At a time when no one cares about you it's nice to have someone on your side who does. (My attorney ) made a stressful six months a lot more tolerable.
- 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.
- Michelle Foerder Pinole PEA
I thank God for the support of LDF and my attorney. I had a letter of intent to be fired and he helped me turn it all around. I still have my job and I'm so grateful.
- Jurell Snyder Oakland POA
My LDF representative had a power point presentation, which was extremely professional.
- Katherine Comesana Mountain View POA
Hope to never in a situation again, however, glad to know that LDF is there to help.
- Joseph Barrett LA Airport POA
I was very well represented by a professional. I felt well represented and got great advice.
- 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
- Robert Mickschl SAN DIEGO HARBOR P O A
From my initial call to LDF, to my "Thank You" email to (my attorney ) I had the best representation I could have hoped for. The "800" number call receptionists were very professional & understanding. (My Attorney's) office & staff kept me informed & updated. I am forever thankful to LDF & exceptional representation by ( my attorney ) & staff.
- Russell Wise Alameda POA
- James Beckman Miracosta College POA
Excellent service everytime.
- 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.
- Brian Schopf Elk Grove POA
Keep up the good work.
- Andrew J. Brice Santa Maria POA
As always... an excellent result.
- Greg Gladson LA Airport POA
[My representative] was very professional and helpful. She kept me informed with my options and the direction of the investigation.
- Juan Espinoza Fresno DSA
[My representative] did a great job. He is both thorough and well educated. I would use him again.
- Rodd N. Joseph Clearlake MMA
I appreciate the fact that my representative met with me in a social setting prior to the interview, during which time she learned the facts of the case. She was prepared for the interview. She seemed to have a genuine interest in my case.
- 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
- Cherie Rye Lyon Co SEA
I am very happy with the service I received from LDF. I am grateful that our association includes LDF as part of our dues.
- Jon Seabron Oceanside POA
[My Representative] was the best and if I ever need to call al lawyer again for anything, I'll be calling her.
- 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.
- 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.
- Paul Hernandez LA Gen Services POA Inc.
[My Representative] was very helpful in my situation and I can't thank him enough.
- Phillip Flores Oxnard POA
My attorney was excellent. I would use her again.
- 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.
- Chris Moore Palo Alto POA
No Complaints. Great Resource.
- Patrick Davis Oakland POA
Very knowledgeable and thorough and would use the rep again.
- Juan Pascua, Jr. San Diego Co DSA
Very helpful and very informative!
- Robert Glock Oakland POA
I am always satisfied with LDF and all their representatives.
- Erick Gaunt Palos Verdes POA
- Ron Ruddy Riverside POA
- Malcolm Norrington LA School PA
I am very pleased with LDF and would use and recommend them again and again and again.
- Derwin Longmire Oakland POA
Outstanding [law firm] - incredible firm. And, LDF was easy to work and correspond with.
- Brendan Dolan Milwaukee PA
Everything went very smooth and they handled everything! Thank you.
- Noe Cordero San Diego POA
Thank you for your help. I feel very secure as you assisted me.
- Robert Morales Rialto PBA
I was very pleased with the service I received
- Gerhard Wallace Santa Clara Co DSA
I think that [my representative] did a great job in presenting my case. I would recommend her to any deputy (officer) facing disciplinary action. My case was minor compared to other cases but [she] still did a professional job.
- Micheal Chad Heiser Santa Rosa POA
LDF is a valuable resource that no law enforcement officer should be without.
- Craig Caches Fremont POA
I have only used LDF once for myself, which with the circumstance was great. I work with LDF in my assignment ( OIS investigator ) and after approximately 4-5 OIS's, I have great experiences with LDF.
- Erik Kusmerz Lyon Co SEA
Amazing job, Thank you.
- Andrew Hill Statewide University PA
I have used this law firm for union related business for the last several years. It was a no brainer to call them for LDF.
- Christopher M. Fuzie Modesto POA
I was very impressed with the speed at which the case was handled. Thank you!
- Tia Dixione Inglewood POA
My representative was very helpful and informative.
- Kenneth Nelson Plumas Co SA
Good job. Thank you! [My representative] does an outstanding job representing the employees and seems to be very intimidating to the [County Management]. We like it this way!
- Doug Plumhoff Ridgecrest PEA
Great job by all! Always great to know LDF is there when needed.