In opening arguments of a lawsuit against five Simi Valley police officers, an attorney for a black woman contended the officers acted out of racial bias when they knocked her down and beat her during an arrest.
A defense attorney denied the allegations of racial prejudice, saying the officers wrestled Debra Thomas to the ground because she was resisting arrest.
Thomas, 32, an auditor for the Southern California Gas Co. and a mother of four, was mistakenly arrested by five Simi Valley officers who kicked open a door to her home June 8, 1988. She and her family are seeking $10 million in damages for pain and emotional suffering.
In the civil trial, which began Friday despite the federal Veteran's Day holiday, attorney Stephen Yagman said officers arresting Thomas "knocked her to the ground, injured her and beat her in front of her family."
"The evidence will show that there was a racial bias here, and that a middle-class white person would not be treated like this."
He argued that if Thomas were white, officers would have investigated when she told them the warrant for her arrest on suspicion of forgery had been withdrawn.
In fact the warrant, issued May 12 by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, had been withdrawn because Thomas had appeared in Superior Court to resolve the matter. It was issued after Thomas, who was on probation for forgery, violated the terms of the probation by bouncing a $40 check, according to both sides.
Defense attorney Bert H. Deixler said that in arresting Thomas, the officers acted in "good faith" that the arrest warrant was still valid.
Before the officers entered the home, Deixler said, they checked with their dispatcher who verified that the warrant was valid. They did not believe Thomas' claim, he said, because she became hysterical.
Deixler said that when officers told Thomas they had a warrant for her arrest, she began to "scream bloody murder, to flail and squirm and resist arrest. She was punching and kicking the police officers."
Deixler denied that the officers used excessive force to subdue Thomas, saying that their conduct inside the house was appropriate, consistent with standard police practice and not influenced by racial considerations.