By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
STOCKTON, CA – Nearly nine years after a Stockton City police officer allegedly beat him while his mother was getting gas at a convenience store, Joseph Green – then a 16-year-old African American teen – may get his chance to see the officer in court.
The San Joaquin County Superior Court case is set for trial, finally, in early January – in the course of the long slog to court, the case was delayed by Stockton’s bankruptcy a few years back, and most recently when the judge in the case, Carter Holly, recused himself the morning before a trial began last Fall.
According to the lawsuit filed by Charles Tony Piccuta, Green had entered a convenience store, while his mother pumped gas, to buy candy with his five-year-old sister in 2011. A man – later identified as R. Johnson of the Stockton Police Dept. – told the teen to “get the F*** out of here.”
Green left after saying “you don’t know me, don’t be speaking to me like that.” But as he exited, alleges the pleading, Johnson ran after him, and pulled him back in to the store and threw him to the ground a couple of isles away, out of sight of the cameras at the front of the store. But there were other cameras.
Johnson then, according to the court filing, “repeatedly and viciously punched” Green in the face, “dislodging his two front teeth, chipping a third tooth and splitting his lip…(and) unnecessarily and purposefully applied pressure to Plaintiffs neck and back and sat on top of him for several minutes with his full body weight. This was done solely in to try and prevent (Green) from breathing and to cause him discomfort.”
The video clearly shows a second Stockton police officer, and R. Wong, like Johnson wearing civilian clothes and not identified as a police officer, stepping on Green’s leg while he was being beaten.
“At no time during this assault did (Green) push, strike, punch, kick or spit on either officer or do anything that could be construed or interpreted as threatening to be non-compliant….Green cried out for someone to get his mother and Johnson said, ‘shut up or I will punch you again’ or words to that effect,” the lawsuit claims.
Finally, the complaint charges that officer Johnson “purposefully arranged for (Green) to be transported to the police station without calling for emergency medical services or an ambulance as he was required to do (to prevent Green) from receiving the emergency medical attention that he needed at the scene of the assault.”
According to lawyer Piccuta, video surveillance in the stores captured the incident from at least two angles. Johnson hits Green at :10:30 of the aisle video, and the “face smash” is at 2:00 mark.
The lawsuit noted that, as witnesses gathered around to observe the attack, they were “told to leave the store and to stop watching or that they would be arrested. The boy’s mother and his five-year-old sister came into the store and saw Johnson sitting on top of the boy. The boy’s mother asked for answers but was also told that she would be arrested if she did not leave.”
In addition to the excessive force and related assault and battery causes of action, Piccuta said the video shows that Johnson tried to cover up his deed by “staging” evidence to support a “false police report” that suggested Johnson tripped in the aisle over handheld baskets.
But the video shows, said Piccuta, that Johnson wasn’t tripped by the baskets, but bumped into them as he was tackling Green. Johnson is shown in the video moving baskets into the “middle of the aisle where they had never been,” and later claiming the teen struggled with him and they “tripped” over the baskets. Johnson also “fails to write in his police report that he slammed (Green’s) face into tile floor while handcuffed,” added Piccuta.
According to Piccuta, Johnson has been accused of excessive force several times, had at least one case sustained and has been involved in two police shootings, one involving the death of one person, in which the city settled for an undisclosed amount.
The video surveillance of Johnson staging the shopping baskets and photographing them can be seen at 10:30-11:30 of the video surveillance link.
Johnson’s claim that Green tried to spit blood on him – caused by the beating – is disproven by the video, said Piccuta – he said the video shows Green not moving at all and that he was on his stomach on the ground.
“Johnson completely omitted from his police report the fact that he grabbed the boy’s face and smashed it into the tile floor after the boy was handcuffed. The force that Johnson used in doing this was so great that it caused the boy’s feet to fly up behind him 3-4 feet in the air,” said Piccuta.
Finally, while the officers arrested Green for resisting arrest, the county District Attorney never filed charges. Piccuta said “It is common for police officers to arrest victims of excessive force for resisting arrest.”
Wong is included in the suit because he was part of the cover-up, said Piccuta, at first claiming that Johnson and Green “tripped,” but later admitted he didn’t see how it happened. Wong was present when (the attack) happened and didn’t intervene,” said Piccuta.
Interestingly, SPD Internal Affairs did sustain a finding of excessive force against officer Johnson, who was given a five-day suspension – and he could pick the days off – without pay. However, that was overturned later by an arbitrator.
Johnson never spent a day on suspension.