Skateboarder ordered to kneel at gunpoint by deputy settles lawsuit against Orange County

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a $195,000 settlement Tuesday, July 13, in a lawsuit filed by a teenager who was involved in a conflict with a gun-wielding Orange County sheriff’s deputy in a San Clemente skate park two years ago.

Max Chance III, the son of a former Orange County sheriff’s sergeant, filed the lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court in March. Deputy Michael Thalken, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Orange County were named as defendants in the suit, which alleged negligence, assault and battery, civil rights violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The board voted 4-0 to approve the settlement. Supervisor Katrina Foley abstained from voting because her firm has accepted referral from the attorneys who handled the suit, County Counsel Leon Page said when announcing the settlement.

“The family is pleased that this chapter in their son’s life has come to an end and that some justice was served,” said Eric Traut, the attorney who represented the Chance family in the lawsuit.

Chance, then 16 and living with his family in San Juan Capistrano, went to a skate park in San Clemente the evening of Oct. 12, 2019, with a friend. He was enjoying a band playing at the park when Thalken, who was off-duty at the time, confronted the band about the noise, according to the lawsuit.

Thalken was at a nearby Little League baseball diamond and apparently wanted the band to stop performing, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleged he “appeared angry and possibly intoxicated.”

One of the group’s members “mimicked the drunk-like walk” of Thalken as he bellowed, “Where’s the tough guy,” the lawsuit alleged.

As Thalken confronted the teen mocking him, Chance told the youth to back up, according to the lawsuit.

Chance put up his skateboard “to defend against a potential assault” from Thalken, who had not told the group he was a deputy, according to the plaintiff.

Thalken tried to grab Chance’s wrist and said, ‘Get on your knees or I will shoot you in the (expletive) face,” the lawsuit alleged. “He still did not identify himself as law enforcement as he brandished and pointed his handgun at (Chance’s) face.”

The teen “complied, while others pleaded with Deputy Thalken to stop what he was doing,” according to the complaint.

Cellphone videos captured the conflict and were aired in news reports.

Thalken eventually “identified himself as law enforcement,” and said “You are coming with me to the parking lot,” according to the lawsuit. It alleged that the deputy returned the weapon to his jacket pocket and argued with other witnesses.

Thalken told responding deputies that the group of kids “were the aggressors and that (Chance) had swung his skateboard at him,” according to the lawsuit. “Of course, both claims were false and refuted by video evidence.”

Chance’s father, who had previously worked with Thalken as a rookie before the sergeant retired, called Thalken at the scene, and the defendant told him that “the kids were douche bags with a mob mentality,” the lawsuit alleged.

Thalken told Chance’s father that he pulled out his gun because Chance “went at me with a skateboard. They were all crowding around me,” the lawsuit alleges.

Orange County sheriff’s deputies presented a case for criminal charges to prosecutors, but the District Attorney’s Office declined to file a case, said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

After an internal review, Thalken was disciplined, but state law prevents the release of any details of the discipline, Braun said.

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Court says California must more quickly move mentally incompetent defendants out of jails

SAN FRANCISCO — California can’t lock up people for months in jails after they have been found mentally incompetent to stand trial, a state appeals court said.

In a 3-0 ruling Tuesday, a panel of the First District Court of Appeal upheld a 2019 lower court order that gave the state a 28-day deadline for placing defendants in state mental hospitals or other treatment facilities after they were found incompetent to stand trial because of psychological or intellectual disabilities.

The appellate court also included people charged with certain felony sex offenses, rejecting an exception carved out in the earlier Alameda County ruling.

The previous ruling had set a phase-in period that ends next year.

State law says people facing criminal charges but who are judged incompetent to face trial can be ordered committed for treatment to help them become capable of understanding trial proceedings.

Two years before the 2019 time limit was enacted, defendants waited 86 days on average after a judge issued the transfer order to get into a hospital, according to the appellate court.

California has “systematically violated the due-process rights” of these defendants by keeping them for longer periods in jails where they may suffer further problems because of crowding, violence and a lack of treatment, Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline said in the ruling.

The decision involved a 2015 lawsuit filed against the state Department of State Hospitals and Department of Developmental Services on behalf of five relatives of defendants who were found incompetent to stand trial.

Due to lack of space, about 4,000 people each year who are declared incompetent to stand trial are placed on a waitlist for admission to facilities administered by those departments, and the list for admission to state hospitals alone soared to more than 1,600 people during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase of 500% since 2013, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which took part in the lawsuit.

The ACLU has urged use of community treatment centers to help ease the hospital bed shortage.

“The court recognized that California cannot continue to warehouse people in jail for months at a time while it denies them both their right to a trial and the mental health treatment they need to become competent to have a trial,” Michael Risher, counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, said in a statement.

“This ruling is a step in the right direction, and our family is very grateful,” said Stephanie Stiavetti, a plaintiff who said her brother was abused in jail during weeks of delay before his transfer.

“The state needs to recognize that there are far too many mental health patients suffering in jails, lost in a system that is rife with abuse and ill-prepared to care for them,” she said in a statement. “Immediate legislation is needed to ensure that people with mental health disorders receive treatment promptly and outside of the jail system.”

The Department of State Hospitals told the San Francisco Chronicle that it was reviewing the ruling.

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ACLU sues Los Angeles, LA County and San Bernardino to stop curfews

LOS ANGELES — Calling the curfews imposed throughout Southern California “draconian,” the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and individual journalists, protesters and others against Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and the city of San Bernardino.

The ACLU claims in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles that the curfews are a violation of the First Amendment because they suppress all political protest in the evening hours and restricting movement outside of working hours is a violation of the Constitution’s protection of freedom of movement.

“The city and county of Los Angeles are attempting to use these curfews to suppress Black Lives Matter-L.A.’s right to protest,” Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of BLM-L.A., said.

“They are attempting to suppress our ability to fully mobilize and focus full attention on the true issue of concern in the protests — police violence against black people.”

Enforcement of an L.A. curfew was seen Wednesday night in Grand Park, across the street from Los Angeles City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

About 11:20 p.m., @LASDHQ deputies began arresting members of the group, several at a time, and walked them over into the theee Sheriff’s Department busses parked in front of City Hall.

— Jonah Valdez (@Jonahmv) June 4, 2020

A small group of about 120 people had remained after a crowd of about 4,000 protesters gradually thinned out after the city’s 9 p.m. curfew had gone into effect.

The small group staged a sit-in at the park in protest of the curfew, arguing that they were only there to exercise their First Amendment rights and should not be subject to arrest.

By about 11:20 p.m., Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies closed in on the sitting group at Grand Park, which is owned by the county.

The group chanted, “Peaceful protest” with hands raised, as the deputies arrested the group, several at a time.

The ACLU lawsuit claims the curfews also prohibit journalists from being able to fully report their stories from the scenes of the protests.

“These unconstitutional curfews have suppressed a huge amount of important political protest activity and disrupted the lives of over 10 million people,” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the ACLU SoCal, said. “The curfews must end now.”

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said curfews in the county will remain in effect until the protests end.


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Man alleging molestation by a priest says Diocese of Orange officials tried to intimidate him

IRVINE — A man who has alleged in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Orange that he was molested by a Roman Catholic priest when he was 6 years old in 1994 said Monday that Diocese officials have attempted to “intimidate” him.

Last week, a judge cleared the way for the public identification of the priest, Father Edward Poettgen, who was most recently assigned to St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim. The man suing him held a news conference Monday from the offices of his attorneys to say the Diocese has treated him “like an enemy of the church.”

The man, whose name was not released, said he reported the priest in January of 2019 so he could find some sort of healing.

“Instead of treating me with compassion Bishop (Kevin) Vann has treated me as an enemy of the church,” he said. “They served subpoenas on my mother, my girlfriend and my employers, hoping to intimidate me but I will not be intimidated. I find strength in knowing that my actions will protect other children.”

The man told reporters, “I’m not a scared little boy anymore.”

Poettgen has been placed on administrative leave, Diocese spokeswoman Tracey Kincaid said. She added the Diocese would not comment further on the pending litigation.

Attorney Vince Finaldi, who represents the plaintiff, said he deposed Poettgen last month, when the priest said he was still in active ministry at the church.

The plaintiff claims Poettgen molested him while he was enrolled as a student and in the parish of St. Polycarp Catholic Church in Stanton in 1994 and 1996.

“They’ve known about this for over a year and haven’t informed parishioners,” Finaldi said last week. “It’s crazy.”

Finaldi said Poettgen served on a board of consultants that decided to settle all its lawsuits in 2007 alleging clergy sex abuse.

“They say he doesn’t have any other allegations against him, but we’ve heard that before and proven it wrong,” Finaldi said. “We’ll have to see what the discovery turns up.”

A trial date has not yet been set.

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OC prosecutors: No criminal culpability by Anaheim officers who struggled with man who later died

SANTA ANA — Orange County prosecutors have concluded that an i-custody death in Anaheim that has led the suspect’s family to sue the city should not result in criminal charges, officials announced Monday.

The family of Christopher Eisinger filed a wrongful death complaint Nov. 29 against the city of Anaheim and Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros. Eisinger, pictured here with his mother, died in March after a struggle when police officers tried to arrest him. (Photo Courtesy of the Eisinger Family)

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office on Dec. 4 informed Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros that there was no criminal culpability on behalf of the officers who encountered 35-year-old Christopher Eisinger in a deadly struggle in March.

Police were called just after midnight March 2 to a report of an auto burglary. When police arrived Eisinger was seen attempting to open a side gate of a residence, according to a report from Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker.

Eisinger “closely matched the description of the auto burglary suspect and was holding what appeared to be a metal pipe,” according to Walker’s report.

When the suspect was told to halt, he dropped the “metal object” and ran away, Walker said.

Police officers responding to the scene caught up to Eisinger with one officer pinning the suspect down with his knee and ordering him to “stay down,” Walker said.

Two more officers responding to the scene reported they saw Eisinger “violently” resisting arrest, Walker said.

During the struggle, Eisinger said, “Just shoot me,” Walker said. One of the officers assured him he would not be shot, she added.

After about a minute of tussling with officers, they got a handcuff on the suspect’s right wrist, but he kept fighting, Walker said.

“At one point, Eisinger grabbed Officer Warner’s Taser and Taser holster,” Walker reported.

Eisinger was again told to stop resisting and let go of the Taser, Walker said.

“Then give it to me,” Eisinger reportedly said, according to Walker.

Christopher Eisinger, seen here in a December 2017 booking mug. (Photo Courtesy of the Anaheim Police Department)

When he was again told to stop resisting, Eisinger reportedly responded, “Sorry, it’s so fun,” according to Walker.

The suspect then kicked the officers, including one who fell back, Walker said.

“Eisinger continued to resist the officers, growled, screamed, grunted and rambled continuously,” Walker said.

The suspect was seen to be “exerting unusual strength and was possibly under the influence of some type of drug,” Walker said.

After about five minutes of wrestling with officers, “Eisinger became quiet,” Walker said.

“At this point he was sweating profusely but had no visible trauma to his face or head,” Walker said. “Eisinger then became unresponsive and appeared unconscious. Eisinger had a faint pulse and appeared to be breathing with perspiration around his mouth.”

Attempts were made to revive him, and he was rushed to West Anaheim Medical Center, where he was admitted in critical condition, Walker said. He was later taken to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where he was pronounced dead on March 10, she added.

Eisinger was “diagnosed with right orbital edema, fractured left zygomatic arch and a sphenoid sinus fracture,” Walker said.

An autopsy performed on the suspect on March 14 did not reveal any visible skull fractures, but “significant swelling of brain,” Walker said.

Eisinger had a “small bleed at the base of the skull, right side,” and a “slightly enlarged” heart, Walker said.

The “cause of death was determined to be a sudden cardiac arrest due to occlusive coronary atherosclerosis and effects of methamphetamine,” Walker said.

“The manner of death was determined to be accidental,” she added.

Eisinger had acetone and methamphetamine in his system, Walker said.

Eisinger’s criminal history included arrests for gross vehicular manslaughter, possession of marijuana for sale, selling marijuana, spousal battery, and assault and battery on a peace officer, Walker said.

“The evidence shows Eisinger died as a result of his decision to exert himself while suffering from hypertrophy and dilation of the heart, recent and chronic substance abuse and a myriad of associated health problems,” Walker said.

Attorney Eric Dubin, who represents Eisinger’s mother in a lawsuit recently filed against Anaheim alleging wrongful death, said the District Attorney’s finding has “absolutely nothing to do with civil liability for causing our client’s death.”

Dubin noted the report focused on the criminal culpability of the officers involved, “an allegation that is extremely hard to prove in America for these types of cases.”

He added, “The issue we are investigating is did these officers cause the wrongful death of an unarmed man, and the evidence supports they did.”

Dubin said his office’s “preliminary review” of video available of the incident “confirms that the Anaheim police acted contrary to police protocol by placing the suspect on his stomach and for officers piled on top of him with their body weight to hold him down.”

Dubin added, “They remained in that position until he went limp. There is no explanation given as to why he was killed during this routine detention, and that is the issue we are seeking answers for.”

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Church of Scientology settles LA suit with ex-member claiming coerced abortion and that she had to work as a pre-teen

LOS ANGELES — The Church of Scientology and one of its former members on Monday settled a lawsuit she filed nearly a decade ago alleging she was forced to work long hours as a pre-teen and was coerced to have an abortion at 17.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney met privately with attorneys for the church and plaintiff Laura Ann DeCrescenzo and then announced the settlement in court. Trial was scheduled to begin Aug. 13.

John Blumberg, an attorney for DeCrescenzo, said terms of the deal are confidential. Attorneys for Scientology didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

The church was a defendant along with its Religious Technology Center. DeCrescenzo’s allegations included forced abortion, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices and wage and hour violations.

Blumberg said he didn’t know why the defendants decided to settle, but actions by their lawyers in court indicated that they didn’t want the case to go trial.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys subpoenaed Scientology leader David Miscavige, but church attorneys sought to quash orders for him to appear, Blumberg said.

“Based on their actions in trying to prevent David Miscavige from testifying, it would lead one to the inescapable conclusion that preventing an order he testify was very important to them,” Blumberg told The Associated Press.

According to a sworn declaration by DeCrescenzo, she began volunteering to do church work at age 6 or 7 in Orange County. She said that at age 7, she was part of a Scientology group organized to picket the very civil courthouse where trial of her lawsuit would take place, according to City News Service.

She claimed the demonstration showed the church’s ability to “go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits” against the institution, whose followers include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

“I believed that if I took any action against the Church of Scientology — whether filing a lawsuit or even speaking negatively about the Church of Scientology — that I would be subjected to severe retribution, including significant financial penalties and loss of my family,” DeCrescenzo stated.

When DeCrescenzo was 12, she was recruited to join the organization’s elite Sea Org, which she said is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the religion worldwide.

DeCrescenzo alleged she was initially required to work daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and that two more hours were later added to her work day. DeCrescenzo says she remained with Sea Org until 2004, when she was 25.

She says she was told she could not leave Sea Org and was released from duty only after she pretended to attempt suicide by swallowing bleach.

DeCrescenzo alleged she became pregnant in February 1996 and was convinced by the church to abort her fetus to show her allegiance to Sea Org and its long work hours.

The case was previously dismissed by another judge, but a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed the decision in June 2011 and sent it back to the judge to determine whether the church was permitted to raise the statute of limitations as a defense.

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The trial was scheduled to be conducted in two phases, beginning with a non-jury trial before Mooney to determine whether DeCrescenzo acted reasonably in waiting so long to file her lawsuit. If he ruled in her favor, a jury would have decided any liability and damages.

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U.S. sues O.C. company to stop unapproved hand sanitizer sales

SANTA ANA — The U.S. Justice Department sued a Lake Forest-based company for distributing hand sanitizer products that have not been approved by regulators.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks an injunction against Innovative BioDefense Inc. and its president and chief executive Colette Cozean from distributing Zylast products that officials say are not approved by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

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The lawsuit alleges the products are falsely marketed as effective at fighting various viruses.

“Consumers deserve confidence that the drugs they use are safe and effective,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with the FDA to ensure that manufacturers do not circumvent the drug approval process.”

A message left with the company was not immediately returned.

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