A flower vendor has sued a Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy, Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff, the department and the county over an arrest last year in Perris, where she claims she was beaten and slammed to the ground.
A video of the June 7, 2017 arrest taken by a passerby went viral.
At a Monday press conference held in their South Pasadena office, lawyers for Joaquina Valencia alleged the deputy asked her for papers and assumed she was an undocumented immigrant because she is a Latina with brown skin. They pointed out that Valencia is a U.S. citizen and has lived in the United States for four decades.
They said she still has problems with her wrists from being handcuffed four to five hours. Valencia, who wore braces on both wrists, cried while making a statement in Spanish.
“She wishes this would not happen to anybody and that she is scared to death now of officers,” said Ralph Rios Sr., who is one of Valencia’s attorneys.
Luis Carrillo, who is Valencia’s other lawyer, said his client did not deserve the treatment given by the deputy. He said they’re seeking justice and and changes in the training of the deputies.
“This police officer has no business being a police officer,” Carrillo said. “She was unjustly treated. She wants justice.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Riverside County Superior Court on June 27, alleges her detention and arrest constituted unreasonable search and seizure, that the deputy used excessive force, that the county and department were negligent because of their inadequate supervision, training and discipline of deputies, and that the defendants conspired to violate Valencia’s civil rights.
The lawsuit doesn’t mention an amount but Valencia is seeking damages, attorney’s fees and costs of the lawsuit. Valencia’s lawyers on Monday also released the video recorded by the passerby and the video from a camera on a second deputy at the scene.
As to why they held a press conference now when the lawsuit was filed in June, Carrillo said they were waiting for the criminal charges to be dismissed.
On June 7, 2017, Valencia was selling flowers and leis on Perris Boulevard and Nuevo Road during the Perris High School graduation. The mother of two has a husband with spina bifida who relies on her to bring in money to help the family, Rios said.
“She went to the high school to sell flowers and was not stopping traffic,” Rios said.
Two deputies on motorcycles showed up. One deputy, identified in the lawsuit only as Deputy Heuer, approached Valencia and asked her questions including where are her papers, according to Rios. He said the deputy grabbed Valencia by her arm.
“Mrs. Valencia never resisted. She never struck him,” Rios said.
The deputy grabbed Valencia’s arm and torso, pulled her hair, slammed her to the ground and applied his body weight, according to the lawsuit.
Rios said Valencia was so embarrassed by what happened that she wet her pants. When firefighters treated her, he said she started shaking and covered her face.
While the camera on one deputy was working, Valencia’s lawyers do not know if Heuer’s camera was not turned on or malfunctioned. They do not have video from that camera.
Rios said a prosecutor filed charges against Valencia for resisting or obstructing an officer and providing false information to an officer. He said the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case in September.
It would be inappropriate for the department to comment on pending litigation, Investigator Armando Munoz, a spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said Monday. He confirmed there is a Deputy Heuer working for the department.
The department’s version of event differed from the lawsuit.
The deputies were doing traffic control in the area of Perris Boulevard and Nuevo Road during the Perris High School graduation, according to a statement the department released in 2017. The deputies allegedly saw street vendors walking into traffic to sell items.
They contacted, warned and cited about 15 people for vending without a permit, the statement said. The last vendor contacted was Valencia, who authorities identified at the time as Juanita Mendez-Medrano from Fontana.
After she allegedly gave several fake names, tried to leave and pushed the deputy away, he tried to arrest her for violating the city ordinance and obstructing justice, according to the statement. The deputy allegedly told her she was under arrest and held her arm to prevent her from leaving.
“When Ms. Mendez-Medrano resisted our officer’s efforts to gain her cooperation, a very brief physical struggle ensued before she was taken into custody,” the statement said.