Police force not excessive, jury decides

A jury ruled Thursday that Fresno police officers did not use excessive force when they broke down the door of an apartment, then used a stun gun on a man who refused to comply with their orders and later shot him with a bean bag gun.

The jury in the civil case was not unanimous in its decision in Fresno Superior Court, but attorney Rosemary McGuire, who represented the city of Fresno, Police Chief Jerry Dyer and the officers in the case, said the verdict recognized the "difficult job" police officers perform.

"These officers have a dangerous job," McGuire said. "It's one thing two years later to analyze what happened that night second by second. But when you have a short time to react, you fall back on your training and your experience."

Officer Ignacio Ruiz and several other unidentified officers were chasing a suspect they had seen drinking beer in public on the night of June 19, 2005. The officers believed the suspect had entered Michael Brooks' apartment, and they attempted to follow.

Brooks, his partner, Kimmie Brown, and their nine children had just gone to bed when officers began shining lights through the windows of their two-bedroom apartment at 456 E. Stanislaus St. Officers first asked -- then insisted -- that Brooks open the door and allow the officers to search the two-room apartment.

Brooks refused, insisting the officers needed a warrant to search his apartment, even after they assured him they did not. When he continued to refuse, the officers broke down the door. They then ordered Brooks to get on his knees, and fired a Taser at him when he waved an arm at an approaching officer.

Brooks was shot by the bean bag gun a few moments later.

Eleven of the 12 jurors voted that the police officers were within their rights to enter the apartment that night, and that they used appropriate force to subdue Brooks. But one juror, jury foreman Michael Weatherly, said he believed the entry into the apartment was illegal.

"I'm a giant proponent of the right of law," Weatherly said. "It wasn't about personalities, or thinking the police were bad guys. It was just that I believe they overstepped their bounds when they entered the apartment."

Brooks' lawyer said he believed that as well, and would use that as the basis for an appeal.

"I thought we had a good, righteous case," said attorney David Greifinger. "The jury disagreed. But I believe there is an important constitutional issue regarding whether entry into the apartment was authorized. Everything else stemmed from that, and we will look at that on appeal."

Brooks, Brown and their nine children were all plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which sought an unspecified amount in damages.