A woman has sued Orange County after she alleged that deputies hauled her out of her house, slammed her face into the ground, and seized her children after she refused to come outside voluntarily. The County has paid her $727,500.
The Orange County Register says that last week the county paid Nancy Butano to settle her civil rights lawsuit.
Court documents state that deputies were called to her San Juan Capistrano home in 2010, and that they arrested her boyfriend outside after allegations that he threatened gardeners with a knife. There is no record of charges being filed, though.
Butano’s lawsuit is one of a series of excessive force complaints against South County sheriff’s deputies that have cost Orange County taxpayers more than $5.7 million in settlements and verdicts in the past four years.
County officials say this case provided some lessons for the Sheriff’s Department. The department has retrained deputies to be more cautious when entering homes without warrants. Additionally, the department ended its longtime practice of automatically jailing people picked up on suspicion of resisting arrest instead of citing and releasing them.
This 2010 incident began when deputies were called to the home after neighboring gardeners complained that they were threatened by a man with a knife, according to a case summary by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney.
The deputies identified the suspect as Butano’s boyfriend, veterinarian Paul Luddy and arrested him after he stepped out of the house. He did not have a knife with him, said court papers.
In her lawsuit, Butano said the deputies entered her home, shouting, cursing and telling her to get off the telephone. She told them they were not invited in and she did not want them there.
One deputy grabbed Butano, described as 35 years old and 120 pounds. The deputies went out the home’s open glass-sliding door into the backyard, court papers say. She said the deputy slammed her head against an outside sauna and smashed her face five times into the ground while handcuffing her, his knee on her back.
In court documents, the deputies said they entered because they feared that evidence—the knife—was being destroyed or hidden, one of the conditions allowed for warrantless entry under Fourth Amendment search and seizure laws. The deputies also said they were concerned with the safety of the children, given the missing knife.
As deputies escorted Butano outside to a patrol car, a neighbor asked why she was being arrested. One deputy replied, “She’s a bitch…she wouldn’t go with the program,” said the court summary.
Butano’s two 18-month-old toddlers were being taken from their strollers and sent to Orangewood Children’s Home, where they were kept for six days.
Butano was held for one day until she posted a $500 bail bond, although by law, she was eligible to be cited and released. She was never charged with a crime.
Deputies searching the home found the knife, as well as a handgun, crossbow, and shotgun, court records say.
The deputies used excessive force against Butano, who did nothing wrong and was never charged with a crime. The mere fact that no crime was ever brought proves that Butano should not have been sent to jail, and because she was wrongly imprisoned, her two toddlers were taken from their mother for six days!
The problem is that this was not the first incident where this same sheriff’s department used excessive force. Do you think the $727,500 award was fair? Do you think something more needs to be done, such as suspensions or more severe penalties and incentives for the officers to be on better behavior?
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