VALLEJO, Calif. (KTVU) - A Concord father who was attending his son’s birthday party when he was held at gunpoint by an off-duty Vallejo police officer is taking legal action against the city.
Santiago Hutchins filed a claim against Vallejo on Feb. 8 alleging false arrest, excessive force, battery and assault by Officer David McLaughlin.
The struggle left Hutchins with a concussion, he said. Photos show his face covered in blood and stitches over his right eye.
“I still get anxiety over it,” Hutchins told 2 Investigates after filing the claim with his attorney Sanjay Schmidt. “It’s hard to sleep sometimes.”
This is the latest in a string of claims and lawsuits against the city of Vallejo involving its police department. City public documents obtained by 2 Investigates show since 2011, Vallejo police have cost the city more than $7 million in legal settlements, including the most high-profile case: $2.5 million paid to Denise Huskins after police called her 2015 case a hoax when in fact she had been raped, drugged and kidnapped.
Last July, the East Bay Express found that of nine major police departments in the Bay Area “only Vallejo police, a department with roughly 100 officers, paid more per officer in civil rights cases than Alameda County.”
Some of the other significant settlements involving negligence and excessive force by police officers include:
-- A $2,100,000 settlement after a 2014 crash involving a Vallejo police vehicle.
-- A $17,500 payout after, coincidentally, McLaughlin’s identical twin brother Ryan McLaughlin (who is also a Vallejo police officer) and his partner, Officer Matthew Komoda, were accused of racially profiling and pulling a man’s dreads out in 2016.
-- A $2,000,000 settlement in the 2012 Mario Romero case where Vallejo police open fire on Romero who was holding a pellet gun. Romero was killed and the survivor was the plaintiff in the legal case against the city.
Vallejo’s legal costs have been so great, it impacted its relationship with its longtime risk management agency, which acted much like an insurance company for the city. For more than three decades, Vallejo was a member of the California Joint Powers Risk Management Authority before separating last February. Its losses were significantly larger than those by other cities covered by the agency.
Despite its 31-year relationship with CJPRMA, city officials told 2 Investigates its removal from the insurance pool was a good thing and the change gave the city more autonomy. Vallejo is now part of a different risk management organization.
On the day in question, Aug. 11, Hutchins had just arrived at Rocco’s Ristorante Pizzeria for his son’s 14th birthday party when he noticed a man in a white T-shirt and shorts looking at him near the entrance. At the time, Hutchins did not know that man was McLaughlin, an off-duty Vallejo police officer. He said the two eyed each other. Hutchins recalled McLaughlin asking, “What are you looking at?” Things quickly escalated and wound up the parking lot of the popular suburban shopping complex. McLaughlin ended up pulling his gun out. He pointed his weapon at Hutchens for several minutes, exclusive video obtained by 2 Investigates shows. Hutchins is also seen shouting at McLaughlin with his hands up, “Shoot me. Shoot me. You know you want to do it.” In a matter of minutes, more officers arrived and video shows that’s when McLaughlin took down Hutchins delivering punches and elbows.
“I hope there are ramifications. Some kind of changes in the system,” Hutchins said.
Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou told 2 Investigates, preliminarily, he believed Hutchins was the aggressor. The chief has not commented on the case since last August. A police official said they do not comment on pending litigation.
McLaughlin is the same officer under fire for detaining a young Vallejo man for recording a traffic stop from his front porch on Jan. 22. Adrian Burrell, who happens to be a Marine veteran, posted the cellphone video of his experience and the clip went viral.
Internal Affairs investigations were launched into both incidents. McLaughlin was placed on administrative leave in early February and remains on leave. Vallejo police has not provided 2 Investigates with any other information regarding the IA investigations.
2 Investigates reached out to McLaughlin but received no response.
Vallejo City Attorney Claudia Quintana acknowledged “there is clearly room for improvement.” She also added “The city, and the police department have worked tirelessly to build and maintain good community relations.”
Hutchins said he is looking forward to those changes. The hardest part of his experience with Vallejo police is trying to explain the situation to his family, especially his five sons.
“My kids look just like me. I felt I was profiled, and it could happen to them,” he said. “They’re afraid of police.”
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with KTVU Fox 2. E-mail comments and story tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.