Chris Dolan, lead trial counsel and founder of the Dolan Law Firm, PC, announced today that the City of Stockton has paid $307,500 to settle a federal abuse of force case against the Stockton Police Department.
The federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of James Smith, a mentally disabled, African American, man, alleged that multiple bites inflicted by a Police K9 as Mr. Smith was handcuffed, were an abusive excessive use of force. At the time of the canine attack on November 21, 2014, Smith, then 18 years old, with an IQ of a child, lay face down and in handcuffs. Video of the attack showed that officers stood aside as the dog repeatedly bit Mr. Smith for more than a minute.
“This is another example of the unjust, and biased, use of force against a young African American man who had done nothing illegal,” Dolan stated. “Mr. Smith was simply roughhousing with some friends when Officer Houston Sensabaugh, who has been involved in the shooting deaths of three other people, rolled up in his cruiser, got out, and tackled Mr. Smith.”
After handcuffing him and hitting him several times, Sensabaugh sicced his dog on Mr. Smith as onlookers told Sensabaugh, no less than 15 times, that Smith was mentally disabled and they cried out for him to stop the attack. For over a minute the dog tore at Mr. Smith’s chest, back, arms, legs, and buttocks, tearing off all of his clothes with the exception of his undershorts which were shredded.
“As alleged in the complaint, Officer Sensabaugh and his dog not only stripped away Mr. Smith’s flesh and clothing they stripped away his dignity and his sense of security leaving him terrified of both dogs and police,” Dolan stated. “The police arrested Smith in an attempted cover-up but all charges were dismissed. But for the crowd stepping up and videotaping Sensabaugh, the police may have gotten away with another despicable, unwarranted and unlawful act of violence against an African American.”
Dolan further stated, “I think it’s telling that after this latest act of violence Sensabaugh changed his name to Houston Stevens. The Stockton P.D. should get rid of the bad apples which harm the community leading to police mistrust and financial payments which could be used for the betterment of the community. Sadly, Sensabaugh-Stevens’s actions seem to be condoned by the Stockton P.D. While he may have a new name, he continues to work as a police officer.”
Smith’s mother, Teresa Smith, was at church at the time her son was attacked. After seeing the evidence of how her son was abused Mrs. Smith retained the Dolan Law Firm to bring suit on her son’s behalf. The incident turned Mrs. Smith into a civil rights activist who regularly speaks out against police abuse during Stockton City Council meetings.
Following the announcement of the settlement, Mrs. Smith said, “While this settlement brings some justice to what happened to James, true justice, in the form of accountability and prevention, still has not been served. The people need to police the police when they abuse their power. We need to stand up, and stand together, to demand that these heartless violations of African American’s civil rights end, NOW!”
About the Dolan Law Firm PC
One of California’s premier civil rights law firms, the Dolan Law Firm represents individuals throughout Northern California. Firm founder Christopher Dolan has been repeatedly recognized as one of top trial lawyers in California by U.S. News and World Report and numerous legal publications such as the Daily Journal and California Lawyer.
Chris Dolan & Quinton Cutlip, Dolan Law Firm PC, 415-636-8160