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County Jail Force Case Reinstated

A federal appeals court says a Huntington Beach diabetic can proceed with a lawsuit against the sheriff's deputies he alleges beat him.

November 22, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A Huntington Beach diabetic who says he was arrested in 1999 for an unpaid bicycle ticket, denied insulin and food at the Orange County Jail and then severely beaten for requesting them, will get his day in court.

Despite a lower court's summary dismissal of his civil lawsuit, John Kenneth Lolli, 38, will have an opportunity to present evidence at federal court in Santa Ana, the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals ruled Fri- day.

"Lolli has submitted a fair amount of evidence, from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the force used against him was excessive," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the court.

He was joined in that opinion by Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain.

A spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department could not be reached for comment on the suit, which names several deputies.

Robert L. Bastian, an attorney representing Lolli, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"We were kind of surprised that the district court dismissed it in the first place," he said.

"This clarifies the legal standards for holding deputies accountable for their actions. There's definitely a problem down there [in Orange County]."

Lolli's problems began on Oct. 5, 1999 -- the night of his 34th birthday -- when a deputy stopped him for a traffic violation and noticed an outstanding warrant on an earlier infraction involving a bicycle.

He was arrested and taken to Orange County Jail where, according to court documents, he told an admitting nurse that he was diabetic, felt ill and needed to eat something as soon as possible to prevent his blood sugar from dropping too low.

She allegedly assured him that he would promptly be given some food.

Four hours later, locked in a holding cell with 12 other inmates, Lolli asked a deputy what had happened to the food.

The man replied, Lolli later told police, "What do you think this is, the Holiday Inn?"

At which point, according to the court document, Lolli says "that a deputy ... grabbed him and pulled him to the ground and then several deputies kicked him, punched him, hit him with batons or similar objects, twisted his arms and legs, poked his face, knuckled his ear and pepper-sprayed him."

Later in a medical observation cell, according to Lolli's testimony, the deputies bent his spine and pounded his head to the ground.

The deputies, while admitting that they had hit and used pepper spray on Lolli, said the treatment was necessary to overcome his verbal abusiveness, combativeness and resistance to their orders.

Last year, a federal court in Santa Ana granted the Sheriff Department's request for a summary judgment dismissing the matter.

In reversing that decision on Friday, the appeals court said that Lolli "has met his burden" on the claim of excessive force.

"The alleged force in the form of kicking, punching and using a baton on a detainee does not seem to be 'minimal' intrusion," the court said.

According to Bastian, the case will be sent back to federal district court in Santa Ana, where it could be set for trial in about a year.

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