Civil Rights lawsuit filed vs. Kasi Beutel & Chief Cam Sanchez

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By SCOTT STEEPLETON NEWS-PRESS CITY EDITOR

October 3, 2012 6:20 AM

Santa Barbara’s chief of police and an embattled officer whose questionable conduct prompted a second series of reports that started running today in the News-Press, are the subjects of an unrelated civil rights lawsuit claiming the officer violated a motorist’s Fourth Amendment rights by seizing his vehicle because he was driving without a license.

According to the suit filed Tuesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, a copy of which was obtained by the News-Press, Officer Kasi Beutel knew through a records check with the Department of Motor Vehicles that Santa Barbara resident Taurino Torres had a valid license but impounded his car anyway the night of Feb. 4, 2011, after issuing him a misdemeanor citation alleging driving at an unsafe speed and making an unsafe turn in the 1200 block of East Carpinteria Street.

Attorney Joseph Allen, who is representing Mr. Torres, said Tuesday that the officer could have cited his client on the non-criminal infraction of failing to have his license in his possession.

Instead, she chose to cite him under a section of the California Vehicle Code prohibiting driving a motor vehicle unless the person holds a valid driver’s license.

Then she had his car towed.

Mr. Torres initially filed a claim against the city. “And they turned him down like they always do,” Mr. Allen told the News-Press.

That prompted the lawsuit.

From here, it will be served on the officer, the chief and the City Attorney’s Office. A judge will be assigned and then the matter will wind its way through court.

Mr. Allen said he can’t understand why his client wasn’t simply cited for failing to carry his license. After all, Officer Beutel knew Mr. Torres had a valid license.

“She checked his driver’s license, even though he didn’t have it in his pocket. That’s why the ticket has his driver’s license number on it,” said Mr. Allen.

The suit states that, “Despite actual or constructive knowledge of the validity of plaintiff’s driver’s license, defendant Beutel seized plaintiff’s vehicle.”

“Beutel,” the lawsuit continues, “had no legal ground or cause to tow and impound the vehicle.”

Also named in the suit is Police Chief Cam Sanchez, because he’s legally responsible for the training of his officers.

“I have no idea what they were thinking,” said Mr. Allen. “You can’t go around just grabbing people’s cars.”

The suit states that Mr. Torres suffered lost wages and had to pay to get his car out of impound as well as for the towing and storage fees. He also suffered “extreme humiliation, embarrassment and mental distress” as a result of the unlawful seizure of the car.

According to the suit, Mr. Torres, a naturalized US citizen who happens to be Latino, “has suffered and continues to suffer extreme anxiety and fear whenever he sees a police vehicle in Santa Barbara, because he fears the arbitrary and illegal actions of Beutel will be repeated on him.”

While not specifying monetary damages, the suit seeks a jury trial where the outcome is expected to top $50,000.

The suit names Chief Sanchez because he “has the duty to train and supervise all officers such that they are aware of the right of citizens not to have property seized or impounded by police without due process.”

Mr. Allen said the incident points to a larger problem in Santa Barbara.

“I thought Taurino Torres was an isolated case. But I’ve been hearing lately from a number of Latinos and other people that the Police Department is going around in the Latino areas on the Eastside and Westside very aggressively stopping people over very minor things if they happen to be Latino.”

And in some of the cases, a minor infraction results in the car being seized, Mr. Allen said.

“Maybe a year and a half ago Taurino was an isolated incident,” Mr. Allen added. “I wasn’t hearing these things in February 2011. I’m hearing them now.”

 

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