New year, new laws for California drivers, bicyclist, scooter riders

January 2, 2019 | 11:10 am


As usual, the New Year brings about new laws to California. And for 2019, several new laws involve measures that affect most of us in the state: driving safety, civil rights, sexual harassment in the workplace, and more. Here are short descriptions of some of these new laws, many of which are a focus for us at Chain | Cohn | Stiles:

 

TRAFFIC SAFETY

DUI Devices (SB 1046): Drivers who have been convicted of two DUIs will have to install breathalyzers, or ignition interlock devices, in order to start their vehicles. This allows drivers to keep their driving privileges instead of having their licenses suspended. Industry experts say ignition interlocks show a 74 percent reduction in repeat DUIs.

Motor Scooters (AB 2989): Helmets are no longer required for motorized scooter riders over 18 or older. Motorized scooters are also allowed on Class IV and Class II bike paths. It is still illegal to ride a motorized scooter on a sidewalk. The law also allows scooters to ride on roads with speed limits up to 35 mph. Learn more about scooter safety by clicking here.

Bike Hit & Run (AB 1755): Hit-and-run laws will be expanded to include bicyclists on bike paths. That means, if a bicyclist hits a person, resulting in a death or injury, the bicyclist must stay at the scene. The bicyclist can be held accountable, CHP said. Learn more about bicycle safety here.

Helmet Safety (AB 3077): Anyone younger than 18 not wearing a helmet on a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or skates will be issued a “fix-it” citation. If the minor can show they took a bicycle safety course and has a helmet that meets safety standards within 120 days, the citation will be non-punishable.

Loud Vehicles (AB 1824): Drivers in a vehicle or motorcycle with an excessively loud exhaust will be fined. Previously, they would have been cited with a “fix-it” ticket.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS & POLICE TRANSPARENCY

Body Cameras (AB 748): Requires that body camera footage be released within 45 days of a police shooting, or when an officer’s use of force causes death or great bodily harm.

Police Records (SB 1421): Allows public access to police records in use-of-force cases, as well as investigations that confirmed on-the-job dishonesty or sexual misconduct.

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW & SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Reporting Harassment (AB 2770): Protects employees who report sexual harassment allegations without malice from liability for defamation of the people they accuse. Also, allows employers to indicate during reference checks whether an individual has been determined to have engaged in sexual harassment.

Nondisclosure (SB 820): Bans nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment, assault and discrimination cases that were signed on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Settlement Agreements (AB 3109): The law invalidates any provision in a contract or settlement agreement that waives a person’s right to testify in an administrative, legislative or judicial proceeding concerning alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment.

Harassment Protections (SB 224): Expands employee harassment protections to include those who are not only employers but who could help establish a business, service or professional relationship. This could include doctors, lawyers, landlords, elected officials and more.

Burden of Proof (SB 1300): Expands liability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA. It lowers the burden of proof to establish harassment and provides stricter guidance on what is or isn’t unlawful harassment. It also expands protections from harassment by contractors, rather than just sexual harassment. Defendants can’t be awarded attorney’s costs unless the action was frivolous. It prohibits release of claims under FEHA in exchange for a raise, a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment.

Harassment Training (SB 1343): Requires employers with five or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of sexual harassment training to nonsupervisory employees by Jan. 1, 2020. Training should take place every two years after that. Employers also need to make the training available in multiple languages.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident in an accident at the fault of a DUI driver, sexually assaulted, or had their civil rights violated, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Wrongful death, civil rights, elder abuse cases among notable cases resolved by Chain | Cohn | Stiles in 2018

December 26, 2018 | 6:00 am


As 2018 comes to a close, Kern County’s leading accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes a look back at noteworthy resolved cases, some of which you may have seen in local media.

 

Wrongful Death: $3.4 Million

In April, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.

The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.

The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.

“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.

On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.

Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.

In another case involving law enforcement, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved in 2018 a wrongful death case on behalf of the family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

 

Trucking Accidents: $3 Million

Jesus Garcia-Santana was travelling on Highway 101 just north of Paso Robles to his son’s home in Bakersfield when his car became inoperable. He pulled to the side of the road, exited his car, opened the hood, and called for assistance. He then sat in his car on the passenger side, and waited for help. As he waited, a Stevens Trucking tractor pulling two trailers full of carrots veered onto the shoulder and struck Garcia-Santana’s car. As a result, Garcia-Santana suffered significant life-threatening injuries.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed negligence claim, alleging that the truck driver was not paying attention, not scanning the road ahead of him, when he overreacted to a car changing lanes in front of him. In November, the case settled for $3 million.

In another big-rig accident case that settled for $3 million in 2018 (Medeiros v. Triple T Trucking, Inc.), our plaintiffs were in a pickup truck on Highway 99 that slowed to a stop due to a lane closure, and was rear-ended.

 

Motorcycle Accident: $3.4 Million

Jason Travis Harvey, 42, was riding his motorcycle near Wible and Planz Roads in southwest Bakersfield when a California Water Service pulled out in front of Harvey, and the motorcycle his the side of the pickup. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the motorcycle accident, wrongful death case for $2.4 million.

 

Premises Liability: $2.3 Million

Russell Lester and Bryan Walls were attending a party on Fourth of July 2014 in west Bakersfield, celebrating our nation’s independence and wedding reception. By the end of the night, they were in local hospitals.

The two arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. Lester and Walls were asked to hold the balloons while they were filled with acetylene gas, which is very unstable, highly flammable gas. The balloons were being taped to a pole when they exploded. It’s possible static electricity ignited them.

Four people were severely injured in the blast, including Lester and Walls. The two suffered burns to their face, chest and arms. Lester lost all the hearing in his right ear and partial hearing in his left ear, and lost peripheral vision in his left eye. Walls suffered hearing loss, too, and Lester’s burns were so severe that he was taken to a Fresno burn center.

In June 2018, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the premises liability case for $2.3 million.

 

Elder Abuse / Neglect

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved several elder abuse and neglect cases, including one case that received media attention.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility. Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.

The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.

The case resolved in June for $450,000.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Sexual harassment in the workplace and the #MeToo Movement

March 14, 2018 | 9:25 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation* attorney Beatriz Trejo recently made a presentation in front of the Kern County Paralegal Association focused on ethical obligations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and the #MeToo Movement. Below is a synopsis of that “Minimum Continuing Legal Education” presentation. 

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* Please note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting wrongful termination and sexual harassment cases *

Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is an ethical obligation of all employees, in addition to a serious legal issue.

More recently, we have seen uprising of people who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism. The “Me Too” hashtag campaign has spread virally to denounce sexual assault and harassment, and millions have used the hashtag to come forward with their own experiences.

Below is a timeline of legal and societal landmarks that led to our current state:

  • 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. It is commonly referred to as “Title VII,” because that’s the part of the act that covers employment. Title VII covers both men and women, but its original intent was to protect women in the workplace. This remains its main emphasis today.
  • 1986: In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment can be sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. The case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson ruled that speech in itself can create a hostile environment, which violates the law.
  • 1991: The Civil Rights Act of 1991 is passed. Congress modifies Title VII to add more protection against discrimination in the workplace. Among other things, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 allows harassment and discrimination plaintiffs the right to a jury trial in federal court. It also gives plaintiffs the right to collect compensatory and punitive damages for the first time, subject to a cap based on the size of the employer.
  • 1993: Harris v. Forklift Systems is handed down. Here the plaintiff worked as a manager of a company that rented heavy equipment to construction companies. Forklift’s president continually made the plaintiff the target of comments such as, “You’re a woman, what do you know?,” and, “We need a man as the rental manager.”
  • 2004: Facebook is launched.
  • 2006: Tarana Burke uses the term “Me Too” to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment.
  • 2006: Twitter is launched.
  • October 2017: Actress Ashley Judd accuses media mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Actress Alissa Milano tweets, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘Me Too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Half a million people responded to the tweet in 24 hours. After the tweet, Facebook reported 12 million posts and comments regarding #MeToo. Within 24 hours 45 percent of all U.S. Facebook users knew someone who had posted #MeToo. The stories posted recounted stories in the entertainment industry, sports, politics, military, and law.
  • December 2017: The #MeToo movement “Silence Breakers” are named 2017’s “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine.

Today, we all continue to be protected against harassment under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules, which state:

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

Still, harassment continues. In fact, an October 2017 poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal found the following:

  • 48 percent of women stated that they have received an unwelcome sexual advance or other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature at work.
  • 41 percent of men stated that they have observed inappropriate sexual conduct directed to women at work.
  • 63 percent of Americans in October 1991 believed sexual harassment occurred in most workplaces.
  • 66 percent of Americans in October 2017 believe sexual harassment occurs in most workplaces.

But legal remedies to fight against harassment continue to exist as well. Claims may be filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the courts. And if the law is violated, damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs may be ordered.

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If you or a someone you know needs assistance with a potential accident, injury or workers’ compensation case, it’s important to contact an attorney, call the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

To learn more about workers’ compensation associate attorney Beatriz Trejo, click here.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

ACLU report outlines civil rights violations in Kern County, highlights Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases

November 15, 2017 | 9:31 am


The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has published a report following a two-year study that concludes law enforcement agencies in Kern County – specifically the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office – have engaged in patterns of excessive force and systematically violated the civil rights of local residents.

ACLU calls on the two departments to reform their policies, re-train and re-orient line and supervisory officers “towards a culture that emphasizes the consistent use of tactical alternatives to force and consequences for the use of unreasonable, unnecessary, or disproportionate force, and establish rigorous and independent oversight institutions to ensure the departments remain accountable and responsive to the communities they serve.

Many of the excessive force, civil rights, and wrongful death cases outlined in the report are and were represented by the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. In response to the report, the law firm released the following statement.

“We are encouraged, but not surprised, that the ACLU has determined that both Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office have violated the rights of many individuals in this community. We have reached the same conclusion over the course of the many cases we’ve prosecuted against officers in both departments. In some cases, these officers have faced criminal prosecution, but in the vast majority they have not. In those cases where criminal prosecution is off the table, these departments vigorously defend the officers, find their conduct to be within policy, and instead direct their attention toward blaming the victims. We hope the Attorney General’s Office will take these findings into account as they continue to investigate both departments. The hope – at the end of the day – is that the Attorney General’s Office will take action against these departments that will spark institutional change and restore the community’s faith in law enforcement.”

Read the full report here.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is already carrying investigating patterns of excessive force and civil rights violations in the two departments. The reports and investigations follows a five-part series by The Guardian publication that found these Kern County departments killed people at a higher rate than any other U.S. agencies in 2015. The series uncovered a culture of violence, secrecy and corruption in the county’s two largest police departments. Among the cases highlighted were those involving wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files wrongful death claim on behalf of family of man who died while in Lemoore police custody

March 29, 2017 | 9:12 am


* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

The family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers, announced the filing of a wrongful death claim against the City of Lemoore.

Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the Hill family in their  wrongful death claim.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

Hill’s family has many unanswered questions about the death of their loved one, which they believe to have been avoidable and preventable. They don’t understand why Hill couldn’t have been taken safely into custody without killing him.

“Donald, or ‘Donnie’ as he was affectionately known, was a young and vibrant man who had much of his life ahead of him,” his family said in a statement. “Donnie was blessed with a warm smile and calm, easy-going spirit. Those who knew him best would tell you he always treated people with love and respect. He cared for his family and friends very deeply, and was a constant fixture in the lives of his mother, brothers, nieces, nephews and many close friends. His sudden loss hurts us all to the core. We’ve all been left with an empty feeling since his passing and the events surrounding his death make it harder to move on.”

Added Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat during a March 23 press conference in front of Lemoore City Hall after the filing the claim: “Officers went to the scene of the home on Pine Court and Mr. Hill was restrained by officers with the Lemoore Police Department. And as a result of being restrained and having a spit mask put on his face and being handcuffed, he ultimately died. The question in our mind is what caused the heart to stop beating . And we have a strong suspicion that the conduct that led up to Mr. Hill’s passing is what caused his heart to stop.

He continued: “The purpose of us filing this claim and the purpose of us filing this lawsuit is the search for the truth.”

Prior to working for the Navy, Hill served as a Coast Guard civilian for two years in Alaska. Hill was a member of the Lemoore High School football and baseball teams, and also played squadron sports while working for the Navy and Coast Guard.

Kings County Sheriff’s Office and Kings County Multi-Agency Critical Incident Team is continuing their investigation. The claim is being filed on behalf of the mother of Donald Hill, Diane Hill, who is represented by Gehlawat of Chain | Cohn | Stiles as well as Thomas C. Seabaugh of The Law Office of Thomas C. Seabaugh.

These attorneys represented the family of David Silva, who died in police custody under similar circumstances in Bakersfield.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Sexual harassment in the workplace persists, but with the law on the victim’s side

February 15, 2017 | 8:48 am


The following article written by Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyer Neil Gehlawat appeared in the February-March 2017 issue of the Kern Business Journal. To view the PDF print version of the Kern Business Journal click here, and read the entire publication, click here

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* Please note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting sexual harassment cases *

* Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, still a prevalent occurrence in the workplace.

According to a recent study conducted at the South by Southwest conference in 2016, two-thirds of women reported having experienced “unwanted sexual attention” at work. Moreover, a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is evidently more prevalent in the service industry, where a 2014 survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 90 percent of women feel forced to “curry favor” with their customers when working for tips.

Even worse, 70 percent of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace do not report for fear of repercussions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is a disappointing statistic, because there are laws in place both in California and in the United States to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, applies to both public and private employers and prohibits sexual harassment against employees, applicants, volunteers, unpaid interns and even contractors in the workplace. You can file a complaint online by visiting the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) website, but it is recommended that you contact an attorney before making such a complaint. The statute of limitations in California requires employees to obtain a right to sue notice letter from the DFEH within one year of the alleged harassment. The employee then has one year from the date of the right to sue notice letter to file a lawsuit.

Moreover, the FEHA requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees. The FEHA department permits employees to submit complaints if they have reason to believe that their employer has not complied with this requirement.

Sexual harassment is also prohibited under federal law. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can range from inappropriate sexual jokes, to inappropriate touching. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically protects employees from sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, in the workplace and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

I advise victims of sexual harassment to take the following steps.

  • First, tell the person harassing you to stop. You may do so in person, but you should also put your request in writing; for example, in the form of an email.
  • If this does not work, or if you are uncomfortable about taking such action, consult your employment manual. You need to follow the protocol laid out in the employment manual, if it exists.
  • If it does not exist, you should notify your human resources department or your supervisor, and inform them – in person, and in writing – about the sexual harassment. If the harassment persists, even despite taking the above steps, then you should contact an attorney immediately to weigh your options.

It is illegal under both state and federal law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, document your complaints in writing, take action, and always remember that the law is on your side.

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MEDIA COVERAGE / RELATED ARTICLES

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of two students wrongfully arrested by Bakersfield police

February 1, 2017 | 9:35 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the Bakersfield Chapter of NAACP announced the filing of government claims for wrongful arrest, excessive force and racial profiling against the city of Bakersfield and Bakersfield Police Department on behalf of two local college students.

After a night of studying on Dec. 5, Bakersfield College students Timothy Grismore, 21, and Xavier Hines, 19, were walking on the sidewalk on their way to get something to eat at Taco Bell when an unmarked patrol car approached them on Valhalla Drive, behind West High School, and shined lights on them. Two individuals, who later identified themselves as police officers, asked if Grismore and Hines were on probation or parole, and began to search them. The officers then slammed Grismore on the ground and struck him with batons, after he asked why he was being searched. He suffered bruises on his body and needed stitches to close wounds on his face and. Both young men were detained overnight.

The Kern County District Attorney’s Office refused to file charges against them, stating the young men violated no laws, and the officers had no right to stop the two, search them or detain them.

“There was no reason whatsoever for these two young men to be stopped, let alone assaulted and detained overnight,” said Neil K. Gehlawat, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for Grismore and Hines. “But perhaps what is most troubling is that the actions of these officers that night appeared to be racially motivated. The officers did what they did because they believed that Timothy and Xavier were affiliated with a gang – a conclusion we feel they reached only because the two young men were black.”

The announcement of the filing of the claim comes one month after the state Attorney General’s Office announced its civil rights investigation into the “pattern and practice” of excessive force by local law enforcement.

With the help of NAACP Bakersfield, the young men posted a video discussing the wrongful arrest, which has garnered nearly 250,000 views on the organization’s Facebook page.

The night of the claim filing, NAACP Bakersfield Chapter President Patrick Jackson — along with Hines, Grismore and members of the community — rallied and spoke at the Bakersfield City Council meeting.

The case is ongoing.

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UPDATE

The FBI began investigating the case in January. Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian he doesn’t think it’s at all common for the FBI to conduct investigations like this. Hines and Grismore were interviewed by agents.

“I imagine they would be looking to see if there was any criminal conduct on the part of any of the parties,” Gehlawat told The Californian. “We’re obviously hopeful they’ll find some wrongdoing on the part of the officers because we think that all the evidence from that night suggests these officers had no reason to ever apprehend Xavier or Timothy, let alone physically assault them.”

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MEDIA COVERAGE — ARREST/VIDEO

MEDIA COVERAGE — CLAIM FILED

UPDATES

5 notable case results from 2016 include motorcycle accident, civil rights, car accident cases

January 18, 2017 | 10:16 am


With 2017 just beginning, we wanted to take a look back at some noteworthy case results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

 

$10 million — Motorcycle Accident 

In June 2014, 27-year-old John Doe was riding his motorcycle in the Oildale area. At that same moment, Doe Defendant was driving a mobile crane while in the course and scope of his employment with Doe Crane Company. He pulled out of a driveway and directly into the path of John Doe’s motorcycle, who was unable to avoid the collision. As a result, John Doe suffered catastrophic injuries, and after undergoing surgical procedures, he lost his right leg. Later, the plaintiff complained of impaired memory, concentration and behavioral alterations, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, pain, weakness and numbness in all extremities, and phantom leg pain.

David K. Cohn of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented John Doe.

The law firm argued that the crane company negligently entrusted, supervised, and trained the driver, and also did not properly maintain the property, which created a dangerous condition that blocked views of employees from exiting the facility. Additionally, the company failed to terminate the driver, who had a blood alcohol level of .02 or above.

In early 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled the motorcyclist accident case for $10 million.

 

$3.4 million — Civil Rights / Wrongful Death

On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013. Attorney David Cohn represented the family.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached by Silva’s family for $3.4 million. To read a full chronology of events from the case, click here.

 

$2.25 million — Car Accident 

Ms. Vargas was riding as a passenger in a car when a 2004 Ford Escape rear-ended her vehicle while stopped at a stop sign in Porterville, and suffered severe injuries as a result. The driver of the Ford Escape was in the course and scope of her employment with defendant VNZ Payroll Services.

Matthew Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Vargas, who suffered severe personal injuries including fractured acetabulum, facial lacerations and scars, neck and back pain and a traumatic brain injury, confirmed by CT and MRI studies.

In July, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled Vargas’ car accident case for $2.25 million.

 

$1.5 million — Rear-End / Car Accident 

Ms. Contreras was on her way home from a family function when she stopped at a red light at 24th Street approaching Buck Owens Boulevard. At that time, she was rear-ended by Stephen Domingue, who was in Bakersfield on business for Mason Specialty Tools, LLC.

The force of the impact was sufficient to push Contreras’ vehicle in the rear end of the vehicle in front of her. Domingue was found to be at fault by the Bakersfield Police Department for unsafe speed for prevailing conditions. As a result of the collision, Contreras suffered personal injuries, including traumatic disc herniation, and retained Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The accident exacerbated Contreras’ lumbar spine disease and hastened the need for surgery and the need for early medical retirement. Doctors advised she would have some pain and limitations for the rest of her life. In 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved her personal injury case for $1.5 million.

 

$1 million — Police Misconduct / Sexual Abuse  

This case arises out of the sexual assault of plaintiff Jane Doe in her Tehachapi home by Defendant Gabriel Lopez while in the course and scope of his employment with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the County of Kern. Lopez is currently serving time in prison for the acts committed against plaintiff (and another victim).

As a result of the sexual assault, plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She did not feel comfortable discussing the incident for approximately one year after the incident due to feelings of embarrassment and repression. Plaintiff’s expert psychologist has diagnosed her with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, based on her interviews with Plaintiff and psychological testing conducted.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented the sexual assault victim, and in 2016 resolved her case for $1 million.

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For more results and case information, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles website at Chainlaw.com.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

These results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files civil rights lawsuit in police shooting that local paralyzed man

September 14, 2016 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the May 20, 2016, edition of The Bakersfield Californian related to an excessive force lawsuit that was filed against the City of Bakersfield and two officers of the Bakersfield Police Department by the Civil Rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

 

Homeless man sues after police shooting

By Steven Mayer

The Bakersfield Californian

Adding to a long string of lawsuits being filed against local law enforcement, a 19-year-old man paralyzed from the waist down after being shot last year by a Bakersfield police officer who found him sleeping in his car is suing the officers involved and the City of Bakersfield.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Tuesday — exactly one year after the incident in question — claims the plaintiff, Gilberto Fajardo, “was asleep, unarmed, and did not pose a threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone” on the evening of May 17, 2015, when he was approached in a church parking lot by Bakersfield Police Officers Lindy DeGeare and Juan Orozco.

“It’s very tragic,” said Fajardo’s attorney, Neil Gehlawat, of the Bakersfield law firm Chain Cohn Stiles. “We’re talking about a very young kid who is now paralyzed for the rest of his life.”

Fajardo was essentially homeless at the time. While he was often able to stay with siblings, that night he was left with only one option, sleeping in his car.

“He was there because he believed the safest place he could sleep was in a church parking lot,” Gehlawat said.

Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said Friday she was aware the lawsuit had been filed, but the city had not been served with it.

As soon as the city is served, the case will go to outside counsel, Gennaro said. She noted there will certainly be two sides to the story.

According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, the front driver’s-side window was rolled down about three inches when officers arrived at the church lot in the 600 block of Planz Road for a “check the welfare” call.

The complaint says Orozco and DeGeare began yelling profanities at the plaintiff, who awoke “startled and perplexed.”

Orozco broke off both the driver’s-side and passenger-side door handles, then “proceeded to bash in the front windshield of plaintiff’s vehicle after plaintiff turned on his vehicle,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit continues: “DeGeare then shot plaintiff multiple times while he was in the vehicle. One of her shots pierced plaintiff’s spine, causing him to become paralyzed instantly from the waist down.”

No longer in control of his body, the plaintiff’s foot collapsed on the accelerator, causing his vehicle to slam into a nearby van, it said.

According to the timeline, the two officers then dragged Fajardo from the vehicle and onto the pavement, jumped on him, kneed him and handcuffed him, causing further injuries.

The following July, a BPD Critical Incident Review Board cleared DeGeare in the shooting. She was returned to full duty.

According to a BPD investigation, the incident unfolded when DeGeare and Orozco came upon a vehicle backed into a parking stall surrounded by large vans on each side and across the parking access lane.

Fajardo was in the driver’s seat slumped over the steering wheel.

The vehicle was not running and the driver’s-side front window was lowered several inches, the BPD said.

There were no license plates on the vehicle; a license plate found in the dash returned to a different make and model vehicle, the department said. It was unclear if the vehicle was stolen.

Plaintiff’s attorneys say it was not, and Fajardo was not charged with auto theft.

According to the BPD’s timeline, officers woke Fajardo, identified themselves and asked him to step out of the vehicle.

“During their several minute conversation with Fajardo, the officers ordered him to exit the vehicle numerous times and he refused,” police said in a news release.

Fajardo rolled up his window, started the vehicle, revved the engine and rapidly accelerated out of the parking stall, police said.

DeGeare, who was on the driver’s side, lost sight of Orozco, who was on the passenger side, the BPD said.

“Believing her partner had been or was being run over, she fired her duty firearm at Fajardo, striking him,” police said in the release.

Fajardo hit a van that was parked across the parking access lane from where he was initially parked. Fajardo was taken to Kern Medical Center for treatment.

DeGeare and Orozco were not hurt. Adding insult to injury, Gehlawat said, Fajardo was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being the vehicle.

Should he be convicted in criminal court, it could bar the civil case from moving forward, Gehlawat said. Should Fajardo be acquitted, it could open the possibility of a malicious prosecution claim.

 

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If you or someone you know has been a victim of police misconduct, excessive force or had your civil rights violated,  call the Bakersfield police misconduct lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

Recently, the civil rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death, civil rights case that garnered international media attention. The case of David Sal Silva, in which he was beaten to death by law enforcement officers, settled for $3.4 million. Click here to learn more about this case.

— Compiled by Marisol Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ – Chain | Cohn | Stiles comments on local federal case backlog

June 1, 2016 | 8:32 am


* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

There’s an old legal principle hundreds of years old that states, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

In Kern County and the Central Valley, where the federal justice moves slower than it does anywhere else in the United States, justice for many residents can take years to realize.

In fact, according to a new Eyewitness News report, a three-year wait for a civil case is not uncommon in the Central Valley. Nationwide, the average civil case takes 26.8 months to finish. In the Eastern District of our circuit court, the average is 37.8 months.

The waits are the product of a case backlog years in the making, according to the news report. And Bakersfield civil rights attorney Neil Gehlawat — of the accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles — told Eyewitness News that this is an issue local residents should be concerned about.

Gehlawat and other Chain | Cohn | Stiles represent victims of civil rights cases, including police misconduct, wrongful death and sexual abuse cases.

“The problem is that people are not made aware of it until they have to be a part of the system,” Gehlawat said. “When they are a part of the system, they get frustrated.”

The average judge in the Central Valley has 1,200 pending cases at any given time, and the federal judicial system has not kept up with the rapidly growing population in the Central Valley, according to Eyewitness News.

For many Kern County residents who must deal with the federal court system, a trip to Fresno or even Sacramento, has been necessary. In fact, as many as a third of civil cases in Fresno were passed to Sacramento, according to Eyewitness News.

The travel can present a considerable burden to all involved in the system, Gehlawat told Eyewitness News.

“That creates more expense,” he said. “It’s difficult for the clients, for them to get there, to leave their homes, their jobs that are important to them and their lives and have to travel two hours or four, five hours away to get their day in court.”

Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles helped settle a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit that was filed in federal court. That case, which received international attention was brought against local law enforcement departments by the family of David Sal Silva, who was beaten and killed by officers.

Three years after the May 2013 death and lawsuit, and just one week before a scheduled trial, the Silva family received justice when it settled the case for $3.4 million.

The federal court backlog in Kern County is a problem not lost on Kern County’s political officials, who agree that our area needs more judges, but Republicans and Democrats blame each other for not being able to solve the problem, according to Eyewitness News.

In the meantime, justice for some in Kern County will be a waiting game.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

If you or someone you know feels their civil rights have been violated, contact the Kern County civil rights attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.