Yolo County and UC Davis have each paid $7,500 to settle a lawsuit brought by a graduate who argued that her arrest and prosecution on suspicion of battering a campus police officer violated her civil rights.
Brienna Holmes was arrested in 2009 outside a sit-in at Mrak Hall, where students were protesting a 32 percent fee hike. She was accused of shoving and slapping UCD police Capt. Joyce Souza.
In 2010, a Yolo County jury voted 10-2 to acquit Holmes of the battery charge and split 6-6 on an accompanying count of resisting arrest, resulting in a mistrial.
Holmes’ lawsuit, filed in 2011, alleged excessive force on the part of Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies Ryan Mez and Gary Richter, who cuffed Holmes on the hood of a police cruiser following the confrontation with Souza, as well as unreasonable seizure, malicious abuse of process and battery.
Sacramento attorney Stewart Katz stopped short of saying he or Holmes was pleased with the outcome.
“On various levels, she got screwed,” Katz said. “I think there’s some modicum of satisfaction for her. I think it would have been very difficult for her to get a unanimous verdict in her favor. A lot of the blame should go to the District Attorney’s Office, but under the law the court cited (the DA’s Office) wasn’t civilly liable.”
Sacramento attorney John Lavra, who represented the county, Mez and Richter, did not immediately return a call for comment. Said UCD spokesperson Claudia Morain in an email message, “In signing the settlement, the university made clear that it is doing so solely to put an end to this matter.”
Katz said he believed the county settled, in part, because of Facebook posts by Deputy Mez, which came to light during the litigation.
In November 2011, Mez wrote, “I hate the people I’m with. F—ing Davis people!” On another occasion, he wrote, “Going to court again. Why don’t these people take the deal … I don’t arrest the innocent!”
On Sept. 25, 2010, Mez’s status read, “Is looking to ruin somebody’s day! Anybody want to go to jail today?”
Lavra argued that Mez intended for the posts to be private and wrote them well after Holmes’ arrest. U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale Drozd ruled that they could be used during the deposition.
Though Holmes, 23, went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Katz said the arrest and trial “tarnished” her campus experience.
Holmes is now working in nonprofit fundraising and Internet political strategy in her native Los Angeles. She also worked for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign as a staff employee.
Capt. Souza testified during the 2010 trial that Holmes shoved her and slapped at her arms when she instructed Holmes to move out of a pathway that was being used to escort protesters — who had been arrested on trespassing charges — from the administration building to a sheriff’s detention van.
Holmes disputed that account. She said it was Souza who shoved her first, causing her to lose her balance and fall forward. Her struggle with the two sheriff’s deputies who detained her was due to her arm being pinned underneath her body as they placed her on the hood of a patrol car, she testified.
Following the mistrial, the DA’s Office declined to retry the case and dismissed the misdemeanor charges.
Holmes’ suit stated she “suffered physical injuries, emotional distress and public humiliation” as a result of the defendants’ actions. It also alleged that the DA’s prosecution of the case cost Holmes legal fees and caused further humiliation.
The other 50 people arrested that night, most of them students, were not prosecuted.
“People blur the line between civil disobedience and protesting,” Katz said. “She was just flat-out protesting. She wasn’t involved in any civil disobedience, period. To me, it’s pretty absurd that the only person you prosecute is a person not involved in civil disobedience.”
Jonathan Raven, chief deputy district attorney, said on Monday that the DA’s Office acted correctly.
“Six jurors not only thought Ms. Holmes should have been prosecuted but also felt beyond a reasonable doubt that she was guilty,” he said in an email message. “Lack of a conviction is not the same as factual innocence. When six jurors vote for guilt, you do not have factual innocence.”
The actions of police outside of Mrak Hall “foreshadowed how inept the UC Davis Police Department was in any kind of nonviolent demonstration situation,” Katz said, referring to the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper-spraying of seated, unarmed Occupy UC Davis protesters. The university later agreed to $1 million settlement with those doused with the spray.
“There was a lesson to be learned,” Katz said. “Obviously, they didn’t learn it.”
— Enterprise staff writer Lauren Keene contributed to this report.