False Arrest Case Against Police Reinstated

Denise Green had a really bad day in March 2009 when police pulled her over as she drove her Lexus, forced her on her knees, handcuffed and held her at gunpoint because a police camera scanner misidentified her car as stolen.

Yesterday turned out to be a better day for Green.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her excessive force and false arrest lawsuit against San Francisco police, who failed to check her license plates against the mistake made by the camera.

Green, 47, who works for San Francisco’s municipal transit system and has no criminal record, claimed wrongful detention and excessive force following the 2009 incident.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed the lawsuit.  He ruled the police made a good-faith mistake.

Police stopped Green late at night in the Mission District after an automatic license-plate scanner in a police car linked her Lexus license as a stolen car.  The stolen car was really a truck and the scanner had misread the license with one-digit difference in the plates.

The scanner was known to make occasional reading errors and police were expected to double check by confirming the actual plate with the criminal information.  (The last three digits of Green’s license are 350, while the scanner read it as 750, the stolen truck.)

When an officer checked the license the error was discovered and Green was released.  Green said she was held 18 to 20 minutes, but the officers say it was less.

“The fact that Green was stopped on suspicion of a stolen vehicle does not by itself demonstrate that she presented a danger to the officers,” the appeals court wrote.

Counting against the city argument that use of force was necessary with a stolen vehicle report was the fact that officers “lacked any specific information that she was armed, that Green was compliant with instructions at all times, that there was no evidence of recent violence and that the police significantly outnumbered Green so as at diminish the risk she posed,” according to the court.

The question of whether the conduct was lawful had to be reversed and left to a jury to determine the facts, the appeals court held.

Case:  Green v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 11-17892



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