Devin Carter, a 17-year-old high school student, was yanked out of his car by police in California last December, slammed to the pavement and violently beaten, according to a federal lawsuit the teen filed this month.
Now the Black teen and his family are fighting back. They’ve joined forces with a powerful litigator in seasoned civil rights attorney John Burris. Burris has represented Rodney King and the family of Oscar Grant in successful civil claims against the police. He filed Carter’s lawsuit Friday, April 2, in U.S. District Court of Eastern California.
“These vicious cops acted like a pack of wolves, and Devin was their evening meal,” Burris said in a statement. “I have not seen a police officer beating this outrageous since my former client Rodney King was beaten by LAPD officers back in March of 1991.”
The lawsuit names the city of Stockton, police officers Michael Stiles, Daniel Velarde, Vincent Magana and Omar Villapudua as defendants. Fifty unidentified police officers are also listed in the claim.
Burris, Carter and his family staged a press conference Saturday outside Stockton City Hall, where they announced the federal filing and released bodycam footage from the ordeal. Afterward, they led a rally calling for criminal charges to be filed against the officers who whaled on Carter.
“The most troubling aspect of this case is that these officers must have believed that they were somehow immune from department discipline and could get away with their conduct knowing that their body-worn cameras were on,” Burris said.
The violent encounter happened the night of Dec. 30 as Carter was driving near his father’s house. According to police, the teen was erratically driving a Mercedes at over 100 miles per hour. A department statement in January indicated Carter turned off his headlights and led police on a three-minute pursuit. During the chase, he passed two vehicles that pulled off to the side of the road to yield to the police sirens. One of the vehicles swerved and collided with a Stockton police cruiser that was pursuing Carter, authorities allege.
Police say Carter lost control while making a turn and officers used a pursuit intervention technique, or PIT maneuver. In the lawsuit, Carter’s attorneys say the PIT maneuver is what caused the uninvolved motorist to crash into the squad car. They say the teen was not aware of the officer-involved crash and say a police car crashed into Carter’s vehicle after he stopped.
Bodycam footage showed Carter tried to surrender and raised his hands above the steering wheel when several officers descended upon him. But two of the policemen ripped Carter’s door open and yanked him out of the car.
“Don’t f—king move. Take your seatbelt off. Take your f–king seatbelt off,” one of the officers is heard shouting.
“Get down on the motherfu—,” the other yelled as he ordered Carter to the ground.
“Chill, chill, chill. I’m down. I’m not resisting,” Carter pleaded.
“Yeah, you are,” an officer claimed. “Give me your f–king hand.”
Carter curled up in the fetal position after being slammed to the ground, where the cops gathered around and “viciously beat him,” the suit claimed. The teen was kicked, kneed and punched in the face, back and side several times. He screamed in agony on the pavement as several officers shouted for him to stop resisting arrest.
As the blows rained down on Carter, he screamed and cried, repeating over and over that he was not resisting.
During the chaotic exchange, officers continued to demand Carter’s other hand. One of them blurted “…your f–king hand a–hole” over the sound of punches thudding against his flesh.
“Here. There, there, there,” Carter said. Then the click of handcuffs rushed in and signaled the end of the beating.
“No mother should see or hear her son beaten by the police and helplessly crying from the pain,” said Devin’s mother, Jessica Carter. “This has been a mother’s worst nightmare.”
Carter’s lawyers allege the officers used excessive force and contend their response to his alleged speeding was “unduly unreasonable.” The complaint denies he resisted arrest and in fact argues Carter attempted to comply with officers by surrendering.
Carter said police tried to coerce a confession out of him and even threatened to charge him with homicide following the officer-involved collision. Police also claimed they saw him toss a gun out of his vehicle during the chase and threated to book him on a weapons charge.
One of the officers can be heard calling Carter a “b—h” on the bodycam. The violent brush with police left the teen with a bloodshot eye that was swollen shut. He also had scuff marks on the side of his face that appeared to be a boot impression, his lawyers argued. He suffered a nose fracture and emotional distress.
Carter was taken to an area hospital to be medically evaluated. Police later booked him into a juvenile detention center on charges of evading and resisting arrest. Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones issued a statement Jan. 6 saying he was “deeply concerned” about the incident. He launched an internal investigation and placed the four officers on administrative leave.
Carter’s complaint denied many of the allegations officers levied and indicated the teen never posed a physical threat that warranted the police assault.
Carter’s attorneys allege police used excessive force and violated his constitutional rights by assaulting him. Burris seeks medical expenses as well as punitive and special damages.
On March 30, Jones said officers Stiles and Villapudua were operating “well outside the scope of both our policy and training” during the incident. Jones turned the bodycam footage over to Carter’s family and attorneys.
He announced that Stiles, who was hired in June 2018, and Villapudua, a five-year veteran, were both terminated. Jones also said he disciplined several other officers involved in the encounter.
“Our department has policies that state we should make attempts to avoid striking an arrestee around the head and neck area when possible,” the police chief stated. “Given this set of circumstances, I cannot and will not condone any excessive force. Additionally, any use of profanity is considered unwarranted and not professional.”
The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is now reviewing the case.
“I am angry that my son, who has been taught to respect the law, was beaten by these bad cops, especially since he has law enforcement in his family and knows that this is not acceptable behavior from police officers,” said Devin’s father, George Carter.