A gay man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, accusing deputies of subjecting him to anti-homosexual slurs and severely beating him in front of his 74-year-old mother at their Strathmore home in April.
Ramiro Huerta also accused sheriff’s deputies of depriving him of proper medical treatment and imprisoning him before releasing him without criminal charges being filed.
In U.S. District Court in Fresno, Huerta, 41, is seeking unspecified damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, said Visalia lawyer Matthew D. Owdom, who represents Huerta.
“What happened to Ramiro is completely unacceptable,” Owdom said Friday. “Law enforcement needs to be challenged on this.”
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Sheriff’ Mike Boudreaux said Friday: “Our office is aware of the allegation, which is pending litigation. This complaint and every complaint received by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office is meticulously reviewed. Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to elaborate on our position or the circumstances of the incident.”
Huerta lives with his mother and 81-year-old father in a house on Avenue 198 near Meredith Drive, north of Porterville. Owdom said Huerta has no criminal record or prior run-ins with the sheriff’s office.
Law enforcement needs to be challenged on this.
Visalia lawyer Matthew Owdom
The lawsuit and Owdom only give Huerta’s account of what happened:
During the evening hours of April 25, Huerta became aware of suspicious activity in his neighborhood and decided to call authorities. He used the Internet to figure out what agency to call, Owdom said.
But when he called the Porterville Police Department, a dispatcher told him he lived outside its jurisdiction. Huerta then “complained over a series of phones and asked to speak to a supervising sergeant,” the lawsuit says.
Huerta then went to bed. But about an hour later, Huerta and his mother were awakened by pounding on the front door. He opened it, but not the locked screen door. Uniformed deputies ordered him to come outside, but he declined.
The deputies mocked Huerta and accused him of “hiding behind his mother,” the lawsuit says. “The officers were clearly there to teach Huerta a lesson.”
Scared, Huerta and his mother told the deputies nothing was wrong and told them they would not open the door because they had no warrant. The deputies appeared to leave the property; Huerta and his mother saw patrol cars’ tail lights leave the area.
But when Huerta left his home to lock the front gate, “he was tackled from behind by an officer who had been hiding in the bushes,” the lawsuit says. Huerta was then dragged into his home and punched, kicked and beaten with batons by several deputies.
Huerta was then dragged into the front yard and pepper sprayed and handcuffed. He was put into a cruiser, “where he was again repeatedly punched and beaten in the face,” the lawsuit says.
The incident happened during the evening hours of April 25 at the Huerta home on Avenue 198 in Strathmore.
He suffered a broken nose, fractured eye orbital, a concussion and two black eyes. “Huerta suffered permanent damage to his vision,” the lawsuit says.
He was taken to a hospital in Porterville, where sheriff’s deputies “did not allow medical personnel to perform any comprehensive medical examination.” When hospital staff left his room, the lawsuit says, a female sheriff’s deputy approached Huerta and asked whether he “was a bottom or a top,” a reference to Huerta’s homosexuality.
From the emergency room, Huerta was taken to a sheriff’s detention facility and held there eight to 10 hours. He was released in the morning without charges being filed. “Huerta did not have a phone or wallet and was forced to walk home upon his release despite being severely beaten and suffering from head trauma,” the lawsuit says.
Once he arrived home, his parents took him to the hospital.
Owdom said Huerta filed the lawsuit to put an end to “the good-old-boy culture prevalent in law enforcement that permits officers to severely beat citizens, slur them with homophobic remarks, and walk away without punishment.”
He said he plans to subpoena records from both the sheriff’s office and the Porterville Police Department to determine why sheriff’s deputies went to Huerta’s home since Huerta never called the sheriff’s office that night.
“Obviously, the deputies went there to teach him a lesson because he complained about law enforcement when he called Porterville PD,” Owdom said. “They beat him because they didn’t like the fact that he was questioning their supremacy.”