The court did not pass judgment on whether the California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer who pulled over 76-year-old stroke victim Harrison Orr and gave him a hard time about his physical condition was responding to the pressure of a ticket quota.
But jurors in June took a dim view of the circumstances leading up to Orr’s eventual beat down in Sacramento in 2013 and awarded the Citrus Heights man $125,000. He had asked for $1 million. In an unusual move, the verdict was contested by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, but U.S. District Judge William J. Shubb upheld it last week.
Officer Jay Brame pulled Orr over for driving 5 mph under the speed limit and accused him of drifting between lanes. The officer suspected Orr was impaired, and he was sort of right. But it wasn’t alcohol or drugs. Orr has slurred speech and is unsteady on his feet because of a stroke.
He explained this to the officer who had him take two field sobriety tests. The breathalyzer cleared him of alcohol. Meanwhile, the two were joined by CHP Officer Terry Plumb. The two officers decided to arrest Orr and handcuff him. Orr resisted and Plumb punched him in the stomach and knocked him to the ground.
At the CHP office, it was determined that Orr, indeed, did have a medical condition that explained his symptoms. But they booked him for resisting arrest and Orr spent 14 hours in custody. The district attorney declined to prosecute. Orr sued in March 2014, alleging false arrest, civil rights violations, assault and battery, and elder abuse.
Judge Shubb said the verdict was not a tough call. He wrote:
“First, the ‘crimes’ at issue could hardly have been more minor. Plaintiff's only crime consisted of driving five miles per hour slower than the recommended speed on a dangerous curve and making what Officer Brame opined as an unsafe lane change. Although the officers also suspected plaintiff of being under the influence of some unspecified drug, he was not. Plaintiff was a 76-year-old disabled man confronted by two young officers. He had been a ‘model citizen’ up to the point that he refused to be handcuffed. He was well dressed in what appeared to be golf clothes and demonstrated none of the behavior of a dangerous criminal.”
The judge was mostly concerned with Orr’s treatment after he was stopped, and not so much about why he was stopped in the first place. Orr’s attorneys alleged that Officer Brame was pressured by a CHP quota system to pull over drivers for ticky-tack reasons.
Brame testified they did, according to the Sacramento Bee. He said he was regularly chewed out for failing to have at least 100 encounters with motorists every month. One written personnel evaluation says, “You will need to pick up your enforcement activity the second half of the month and use the (motorcycle) for what it is intended to be used for.”
“That is terrible,” Judge Shubb remarked about the evaluation. “I would think that the CHP should be ashamed of that document.”
Quota systems for peace officers are illegal and the CHP denies it has one.