Civil Rights Suit Against California Fire Captain Dismissed

A civil rights lawsuit against the City of Vallejo, the Vallejo Police Department, several police officers and a fire captain has been dismissed as to the fire captain, and its scope largely curtailed for the other defendants. The suit arose out of a 2019 tasing incident of a 71-year old man who ignored a police officer’s commands.

John Mark Raudelunas brought the lawsuit in federal court against the city, five police officers and Fire Captain Jason Goodner. Raudelunas contends the officer who tased him, Jodi Brown, violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights as she had no reason to do so. He claims Captain Goodner failed to render medical aid to him, and later conspired with Officer Brown to justify the tasing.

The suit alleges false arrest, false imprisonment, conspiracy, negligence, negligent training, intention infliction of emotional distress, and seeks a court order terminating Officer Brown. Here is more about the original filing, including a copy of the complaint.

The incident that gave rise to the tasing was explained by the court as follows:

  • [Raudelunas] is disabled and wears hearing aids.
  • On August 19, 2019, at approximately 5:15 p.m., Mr. Raudelunas was driving his vehicle at or near his home at 1338 Nebraska St., when another motorist speeding away threw an object out of his car and through plaintiff’s open window, hitting Mr. Raudelunas on the head.
  • Mr. Raudelunas pursued the motorist and collided with a vehicle in traffic.
  • Officer Jodi Brown arrived at the scene and asked Mr. Raudelunas for his license and registration.
  • In response, Mr. Raudelunas handed Officer Brown a stack of papers that included his license and registration.
  • When Officer Brown refused to accept the stack of documents Mr. Raudelunas got into his car.
  • Officer Brown warned Mr. Raudelunas repeatedly that he was not permitted to leave the scene of the accident.
  • Mr. Raudelunas drove away and headed home, a short distance away.
  • Officer Brown followed Mr. Raudelunas in her car, with sirens and lights on.
  • As soon as Mr. Raudelunas pulled into his driveway, Officer Brown parked and exited her car.
  • She gave Mr. Raudelunas four loud commands to get on the ground.
  • Mr. Raudelunas ignored the commands and appeared to be reaching back into his truck when Officer Brown “deployed [her] taser, “shoot[ing] him point blank” on his lower chest.
  • Mr. Raudelunas lost control of his muscles and fell to the ground.
  • He suffered “significant injury” from the taser impact and from falling to the concrete driveway.

The city sought to have the bulk of Raudelunas’ allegations dismissed. In a lengthy decision, US District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller granted most of the city’s request, and in doing so dismissed all of the claims against Captain Goodner. The court reasoned as follows:

  • Plaintiff asserts Fourth Amendment claims against Captain Goodner on theories of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and failure to render medical aid.
  • Plaintiff offers no evidence that Captain Goodner used “excessive force,” or any force at all.
  • Plaintiff alleges Captain Goodner was at the scene of plaintiff’s traffic collision but does not allege Captain Goodner used force against him or participated in his arrest.
  • Plaintiff does not state a claim for excessive force against Captain Goodner.
  • Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest and false imprisonment against Captain Goodner fail for similar reasons—at no point did Captain Goodner participate in placing plaintiff under arrest.
  • Finally, plaintiff’s failure to verbalize a need for medical attention absolves Captain Goodner of liability for failure to render medical aid under the Fourth Amendment.
  • Accordingly, all claims against Fire Captain Jason Goodner are dismissed without leave to amend because amendment would be futile.
  • With respect to plaintiff’s § 1985 conspiracy claim against defendants Jodi Brown, Jason Goodner, and Steve Darden, Mr. Raudelunas alleges defendants denied him equal protection of law based on the witness statement Captain Goodner gave Officer Brown regarding the incident.
  • Specially, Mr. Raudelunas quotes Captain Goodner stating: “I saw an uncooperative guy at the scene of the collision, and you asked for his license and registration. He threw it at you because you would not take it apart. He basically said, ‘fuck it,’ I am going to leave. He backed up and it looked like he almost hit you. I was moving our engines to move it in case he backed up into us. He peeled out of the parking lot and you went after him.”
  • Mr. Raudelunas alleges Officer Brown “recruited” Captain Goodner “to provide an exculpatory statement that attempts to justify her use of force, entering into an unlawful conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff of his civil rights.”
  • Defendants argue plaintiff’s amended complaint does not allege any facts to support conspiracy claims against Officer Brown, Lt. Darden, and Captain Goodner.
  • The court agrees Captain Goodner’s statement and Mr. Raudelunas’s conclusory allegations of conspiracy, offered alone, does not suffice to plead a conspiracy claim.
  • Given the dearth of factual allegations other than Captain Goodner’s statement in the amended complaint, plaintiff does not state a claim for conspiracy.
  • The court agrees Captain Goodner’s report to the police was a privileged communication under California Civil Code § 47 and dismisses all claims against him without leave to amend.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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