Roseville meets again to discuss alleged police brutality lawsuit

City officials met for the second time with an attorney on Wednesday, July 9, to discuss litigation strategy in an alleged police excessive force lawsuit filed this spring.

Four Roseville officers are named in a suit filed in April by Victor Yair Hernandez-Rivera, 25, of St. Paul that alleges they used excessive force against him during a traffic stop that took place in the early morning hours of May 26, 2013.

Officer Justin Gunderson filed a response to Hernandez-Rivera’s claims June 19; the other three officers Erin Reski, Grant Dattilo and Kyle Eckert submitted theirs about 10 days later on June 30.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court April 10, Hernandez-Rivera was the passenger in a vehicle traveling on westbound Highway 36 that was pulled over for speeding.

The driver of that vehicle exited the highway at Lexington Avenue and stopped on West Sherren Street before jumping out of the car and fleeing into the unlit residential neighborhood. The driver has not been identified or caught.

Hernandez-Rivera claims that although he attempted to comply with the officers’ orders, he only understands and speaks “limited” English. He alleges the officers swore at him, punched him, Tasered him multiple times and forced him to ride in the back of a squad car for an hour with his pants down.

Hernandez-Rivera is seeking $500,000 in punitive damages.

Gunderson’s response denies most of the allegations, including that the Taser was successful more than once, and denies knowing that Hernandez-Rivera’s pants were lowered.

The response filed by Reski, Dattilo and Eckert reads much the same, echoing Gunderson’s statement that their behavior was within their “official capacity as police officers.”

“Any injuries or damages sustained by [Hernandez-Rivera] were due to and caused by [his] own conduct,” both responses said.

In a statement released in June, Roseville said although it’s not named as a party in the lawsuit, the city is “cooperating with the legal process.”

Representatives from the city’s Community Engagement Commission and the Human Rights Commission have reported receiving a number of comments from residents about the lawsuit.

Two HRC members, Scot Becker and David Singleton, reported to fellow HRC members at a June 18 that they had met with Police Chief Rick Mathwig and Detective Tom Pitzl to discuss the department’s use of force.

The two commissioners reported the department is mandated by the state to complete a minimum of eight hours of training in regards to force each year; Roseville officers average about 12 to 16 hours.

Joe Flynn, one of the attorneys representing Gunderson, says the city’s involvement is “completely normal” and in lawsuits involving city employees, there’s usually “constant communication between the attorneys and city administration.”

Additionally, Flynn said, the attorneys representing all the involved individuals are scheduled to meet in court Aug. 5 to set various deadlines relating to the suit. At the earliest, a trial could be as far out as a year from now, he said.

A shortened version of the dash camera video from the May 26, 2013, traffic stop is available here: http://bit.ly/1iB48BW or video will load below.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.

Editor's note: This article appeared with an error in the July 15 edition of the Review. It appears here in its corrected form.

 

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