A Northern California police department at the center of an investigation surrounding racist text messages is once again being accused of misconduct after a couple filed a lawsuit alleging they were beaten during an unlawful arrest.
Juan Laspada and his fiancée, Rebecca Rodriguez, said they were waiting for an Uber outside of their friend's apartment on Feb. 25, 2022, when Antioch police officers pulled up and asked if they were all right, a federal lawsuit filed on Saturday states.
They told the officers they were fine and were waiting for their Uber, according to the suit. The officers, who were not named in the suit, asked to talk to Laspada, it says.
He told them he did not want to talk and started to walk away. The lawsuit alleges that the officers then grabbed him, threw him to the ground, placed him in "a prone position on his stomach," punched him several times in the face, body and ear, and struck him with their knees.
It says that Laspada was handcuffed and while on the ground, an officer placed his body weight on the man's back, "restricting his ability to breathe and causing him to scream out in pain."
In an interview with San Francisco television station KRON, Laspada said that he told the officer he did not want to talk because the officer appeared mad.
“I told him, ‘I’m just going to go ahead and walk away because your veins are sticking out of your neck. You’re mad, and this is just going to turn into something bad. So I’m going to walk away,’” he said.
"When I went to go walk by, he slammed me on the ground ... and he kept punching me and punching me. When I was on the ground and they were punching me over and over, I was just like, 'When is it going to stop? When are you going to stop punching me?'" Laspada told KRON.
Part of the incident was captured on cellphone video and obtained by the news station. In the footage, two officers appear to push Rodriguez. One of the officers is on top of Laspada while he is on the ground and appears to hit him.
The lawsuit alleges that Rodriguez feared Laspada would be killed and begged the officers to stop. In response to her pleading, one of the officers "punched Rebecca Rodriguez in the face, knocking her to the ground," it says.
The Antioch Police Department and the police union did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Rodriguez was taken to the police station, cited and ordered to appear in court, according to the lawsuit, which says the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office declined to file charges. The DA's office could not immediately be reached.
Laspada was taken to the hospital where he was evaluated and released from custody without charges, according to the suit, which says he had bruises on his body and bleeding in his inner ear. The filing also alleges that the officers went through his bookbag without a warrant or his consent.
The couple, who identify as Latinx, said they believe the officers racially profiled them, according to the suit.
The majority of the roughly 114,000 residents of Antioch, about 45 miles northeast of San Francisco, are minorities, according to U.S. census figures.
The lawsuit says police did not have any reason to suspect Laspada of a crime and did not have probable cause to arrest him and his fiancée.
"It is alleged under good faith belief that Plaintiff Juan Laspeda was grabbed, thrown to the ground and struck for exercising his right to discontinue his conversation and walk away from the officer(s)," the suit states.
It further alleges that the officers’ conduct was “in conscious and reckless disregard of the risk of injury and under the circumstances, there was no objectively reasonable basis for the defendants’ actions.”
Laspada, Rodriguez and their attorneys could not be reached. The lawsuit names the city of Antioch and several unnamed officers as defendants and alleges excessive force, unlawful detention, false arrest, illegal search and racial profiling.
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The suit is the latest claim of misconduct against the police department. Earlier this month, an investigative report compiled by the DA's office was released that showed more than a dozen officers were under investigation for allegedly using racial epithets and homophobic slurs, sharing racist images and casually discussing the use of "less lethal" weapons on people, including the city’s mayor, who is Black.
The report prompted the Antioch City Council to unanimously approve audits of the department’s internal affairs unit, its hiring and promotional practices and of department culture.
Antioch Police Chief Steve Ford issued a statement condemning the “the racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior being attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department in media reports.”