In one of the largest payouts in the city’s history, San Diego settled an excessive force and false arrest claim in February for $2.5 million. Gregory McNally was awarded $1.5 million by a federal judge in November 2020 after an incident where police officers body-slammed and pepper-sprayed him in 2016. The additional $1 million involves attorney and litigation fees.
The episode took place at a trolley station and was caught on video by security cameras.
On average, San Diego spends about $25 million annually in payouts. However, while 20,000 cases against the city were filed between fiscal years 2010 and 2018, just 16 of these were settled for more than $1 million. Only 313 cases exceeded $50,000 in payouts.
None of those cases involved a guy getting off a trolley and heading home when he is surrounded by a mob telling him to put his hands up and get on the ground. The end result was severe head injuries.
Detectives in Plain Clothes
On July 8, 2016, a group of detectives in plain clothes were among city officials making an effort to contact homeless people to warn them of recent violent attacks. The suspect in these attacks was later arrested.
The detectives were gathered at the trolley station on an elevated platform above a parking lot when they heard a loud noise and saw something land near them. One detective thought it was a gunshot. It turned out the object was an iPhone charging block.
The police officers ran into the station. McNally, who had just gotten off a trolley, was the only person in the vicinity. He was ordered by the out-of-uniform cops to get on the ground. He was obviously confused and did not comply immediately. A detective named Daniel Riis lifted McNally up, body slammed him, and then used pepper spray. McNally suffered two broken teeth, a jaw injury, and nerve damage.
Arrested But Not Charged
Once the police handcuffed McNally, someone else said they had thrown the item. That individual was not charged. However, McNally was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and public intoxication. He had been out drinking with friends earlier in the evening. San Diego prosecutors decided not to file charges.
McNally filed a lawsuit against the city and Riis in 2018.
City Tries to Exclude Video Evidence
In the civil case, lawyers for the city attempted to exclude the video evidence, arguing it was “not an accurate portrayal.” The lawyers also argued the original judge should step down because her son sued the city over bicycle crash injuries. Before stepping down, she ruled the video was accurate and could be shown during the trial. She noted that authorities use similar surveillance videos when prosecuting their cases. Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo was assigned to the trial before it began.
The trial was delayed due to the city’s legal maneuvers and coronavirus-related concerns. It lasted just a week, ending with the federal jury awarding McNally $1.5 million.
Were you or a family member injured or killed by unnecessary police brutality?
If you are injured or a family member is wrongfully killed or suffers an injury during an arrest, while you are in custody, or when you are in state or federal jail or prison – you can sue. Contact our lawyers online or by telephone 866.836.4684 to learn more.