Cousins win $1.6 million verdict after graphic video shows Long Beach police hitting them with batons

October 13, 2016
By Press

By Jeremiah Dobruck, PressTelegram
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: Video contains violence and graphic language.
A federal jury Friday awarded more than $1.6 million to two men who claimed Long Beach police beat them
with batons and stomped on one of their hands without provocation, leaving them with broken bones and
permanently disabling one of them.
A video of the 2010 incident captures the sound of repeated baton blows as two officers order Miguel Contreras
and Miguel Vazquez to lie face down on the ground.
“I’m down,” one of the men yells between cries of pain. Bystanders can be heard pleading for police to stop.
At one point, Vazquez moans when an officer steps on his hand, breaking a finger, according to his attorney,
David McLane.
“What he does is he stomps and keeps his foot on and then grinds it until the finger snaps,” McLane said.
The video footage is too dark to clearly show this, along with most other details of the encounter.
Contreras and Vazquez, who are cousins, eventually filed separate lawsuits alleging officers had no justification
to inflict the injuries.
After a joint trial this month in a Los Angeles federal courthouse, jurors agreed that the two officers – Lt. David
Faris, who was a sergeant at the time, and Officer Michael Hynes – used excessive force in the encounter.
Jurors awarded $1.25 million in damages to Contreras and another $375,000 to Vazquez, according to attorneys
involved in the case.
Police do not deny striking Contreras and Vazquez with the batons, but, “Our contention was and is that the
officers acted reasonably and lawfully,” Long Beach Deputy City Attorney Howard Russell said.
Long Beach officials are reviewing their legal options and haven’t decided on a possible appeal, Russell said.
The lawsuits centered around the early morning hours of Nov. 27, 2010 when Contreras and Vazquez were
returning from The Falcon bar in Long Beach.
When they got back to Vazquez’s apartment in the 1600 block of Broadway, Vazquez saw officers Faris and
Hynes yelling at a small group of people that included a friend of his, according to Vazquez’s lawsuit.
Vazquez claimed that when he tried to find out what was going on, one of the officers told him to go home and
pushed him away.
The video, recorded from inside a nearby apartment, captured Vazquez saying, “Don’t [expletive] touch me.”
The officer, identified in court documents as Faris, responds, “I will touch you anytime I want to touch you. You
understand that?”
At that point, the officers forced Vazquez to the ground and one of them began hitting him with a baton,
according to the lawsuit.
Contreras contends he tried to ask why his cousin was being detained when officer Hynes blindsided
without warning, striking him more than a dozen times with a baton.
According to his lawsuit, the blows caused multiple bone fractures above Contreras’ elbow. The injury required
two surgeries and Contreras can no longer fully extend his arm, McLane said.
Russell said police took down Vazquez only after he slapped the officer’s hand away, Russell said.
As the officer struggled to control Vazquez, a crowd began moving in, Russell argued. When the officers
ordered them to get back, only Contreras remained too close, prompting the baton blows, according to Russell.
Russell said neither officer remembered one of them stepping on Vazquez’s hand.
McLane said four bystanders backed up Contreras and Vazquez’s account during trial.
“They all testified that they couldn’t believe police could act that way,” he said.
Russell suggested those witnesses may have been confused about what happened.
“Our perspective is that this was an encounter that happened at two in the morning in a dark driveway that
happened very rapidly,” he said. “The entire use of force encounter lasted less than a minute. And I think a lot of
people were honestly mistaken about what they thought they saw.”
Contreras and Vazquez both filed complaints with the city against the officers after the incident.
Contreras’ attorney Thomas Beck alleged the complaints were closed without investigators ever interviewing
Contreras, Vazquez or civilian witnesses.
“This is a representation, emblematic of the way the department treats these types of behaviors,” he said.
Russell declined to comment on any administrative or internal investigation, and a spokesman for the police
department deferred questions to the city attorney’s office.
After the incident, Vazquez was charged with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, but those counts
were dropped when he agree to plead no contest to public drunkenness, according to his attorney.
Contreras was charged with resisting arrest months after the incident, but prosecutors ultimately dismissed the
allegation, Beck said.
In their respective lawsuits Vazquez and Contreras also accused police of fabricating evidence and of malicious
prosecution, but jurors rejected those claims.