A UC Davis student has filed a federal lawsuit claiming her arrest and prosecution on suspicion of battering a campus police officer violated her civil rights.
A Yolo County jury last summer voted 10-2 to acquit Brienna Holmes of the battery charge and split 6-6 on an accompanying count of resisting arrest, resulting in a mistrial.
Sacramento attorney Stewart Katz, who represents the UCD senior, alleges that Holmes’ Nov. 19, 2009, arrest and her subsequent prosecution in Yolo Superior Court were “unjustified.”
Filed Feb. 4 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, the nine-page lawsuit alleges unreasonable seizure, excessive force, malicious abuse of process and battery. It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are UCD police Capt. Joyce Souza and Lt. Matthew Carmichael, Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies Ryan Mez and Gary Richter, District Attorney Jeff Reisig and the county of Yolo.
Souza is the officer Holmes was accused of shoving and slapping during a raucous protest outside UCD’s Mrak Hall, where several hundred students had gathered to object to a 32 percent increase in student fees.
Mez and Richter took Holmes into custody following the confrontation with Souza. Authorities alleged that Holmes resisting the officers’ efforts to detain her.
Officials at UCD and the District Attorney’s Office dispute the allegations.
“This lawsuit is meritless,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said. “In the criminal case, six jurors felt beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Holmes was guilty of a crime.”
Added Michael Sweeney, associate campus counsel at UCD: “The district attorney reviewed the criminal case against Ms. Holmes and determined there was probable cause to conclude that she engaged in criminal activity. …Therefore, based on the information available to us, we believe the officers acted appropriately and certainly have no legal vulnerability.”
Souza testified during the trial last July 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 Mrak Hall to a sheriff’s detention van.
Holmes disputed that account, saying 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 Yolo County District Attorney’s Office declined to retry the case and dismissed the misdemeanor charges.
“Ms. Holmes suffered physical injuries, emotional distress and public humiliation as a result of the actions of defendants Souza, Carmichael, Richter, Mez and County of Yolo,” the lawsuit states.
The suit also alleges that the DA’s prosecution of the case cost Holmes legal fees and further humiliation, while those who were arrested for trespassing were not prosecuted.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or (530) 747-8048. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com