By Hector Gonzalez
April 29, 2015 -- An attorney for an African American man arrested on suspicion of refusing to leave a Santa Monica park when asked by officers is disputing the Police Department’s version of what happened, claiming police peppered-sprayed and needlessly used force to subdue his unresisting client.
Attorney Justin H. Sanders, who is representing Justin Palmer of Santa Monica, said “super-aggressive” officers deployed pepper spray directly into his client’s eyes while he already was on the ground and being handcuffed.
Palmer was cited and released following his arrest April 21 at the charging station at Virginia Park, according to police.
“All he wanted was a bit of charge so he could drive to work the next morning,” said Sanders. “Just as he gets up to the charging station and begins hooking up his car, the officer walks up and says, ‘The park’s closed, get out here. You have to leave.’ He was super-aggressive.”
In a news release issued April 23, Santa Monica Police Department spokesman Sgt. Rudy Camarena described Palmer’s arrest on suspicion of violating the City’s park closure ordinance “and delaying and obstructing an officer in the course of his duties.”
During the course of his arrest, Palmer “actively resisted,” Camarena said.
He said officers doing a routine check at the park approached Palmer and advised him that the park closes at 11 p.m. and that the charging station was closed.
“The subject repeatedly refused to leave the park and after numerous requests, officers made the decision to issue him a citation,” Camarena said.
“When officers requested to see his identification, he repeatedly refused to provide it. The subject was then placed under arrest.”
Palmer was booked into the Santa Monica Jail, where he complained of pain. He was taken to Santa Monica Hospital, where he was treated and “medically cleared,” Camarena said.
“The subject was subsequently issued a citation and released,” the sergeant said.
Sanders described a different confrontation, escalated by overly aggressive officers. He said his client arrived at the charging station around 9:30 p.m., well over an hour before the park closes, and was waiting his turn to charge his vehicle when one of two Santa Monica police officers approached and “very aggressively told him to leave.”
When Palmer asked why he was being singled out when other people were still in the park and other motorist had just finished charging, the officer allegedly asked to see Palmer’s identification, according to Sander.
According to Sanders, the officer asked Palmer if he was refusing to show his ID.
“My client said, ‘I’m just asking, what did I do wrong?’” said Sanders.
That’s when an officer “swept my client’s legs from under him,” causing Palmer to fall. A second officer then approached Palmer while he was on the ground being handcuffed and pepper-sprayed him in the face, Sanders said.
“The other cop leans down, gets right into my client’s face and pepper-sprays him directly in the eyes,” said Sanders.
He said the amount of force used by the officers was unwarranted.
“It was such a minor incident in the first place,” Sanders said. “This was actually over nothing. These cops are just way too aggressive.”
According to Camarena, Palmer was booked into custody at the Sana Monica Public Safety Facility before being taken to the City Jail. But the Department’s record of arrests for April 21 does not list Palmer among those booked into custody that day.
Two calls to Camarena were not retuned Tuesday.
Sanders said his client is a married father of four, a college graduate with a degree in anthropology and no criminal record.
“He’s a small guy, about five (feet), seven and 150 pounds,” Sanders said. “He regularly charges his car at Virginia Park and never had any problems there before.”
No formal complaint by Palmer had been filed as of Tuesday, said Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Lance Gams.
Sanders declined to say whether Palmer plans to pursue any legal action, adding that his first priority is defending his client against any charges stemming from his arrest.
“First things first,” said Sanders. “First, the City Attorney’s Office is going to have to decide whether or not they’re going to prosecute my client for any alleged crime. My first order of business will be to defend him against those charges.”