Salvador Dueñas says he needs surgery on his nose because it’s still broken. And that he suffers from migraines and trauma after what he describes as a “beating” by several police officers from Los Angeles Police Department’s Foothill Division in November 2017.
“It was a very bad event,” says Dueñas, 26, who filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department, and several of its officers, claiming violations of his civil rights and use of excessive force during a 2017 confrontation in front of Dueñas’ home that was captured on video by neighbors.
“These officers lost their composure,” Dueñas said.
Several officers are named in the suit but none have been criminally charged.
Dueñas’ current attorney Duane Folke, who has taken the case on a contingency basis, said his client originally filed the suit in 2018 (to be within the two-year statute to file a personal injury case) and was originally representing himself — “what we call ‘In Pro Per’” — before seeking outside legal counsel.
“That attorney, unfortunately, wasn’t very experienced in federal court proceedings. I took over the case as of this May,” Folke said.
LAPD officials, in an email sent to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol said the department could not comment on pending litigation.
According to Dueñas — who appeared with Folke outside the LAPD Foothill Division in Pacoima on Tuesday, June 1, to discuss the lawsuit — “plainclothes” police officers from the station broke down the door to his apartment at 12700 Van Nuys Boulevard and barged into his residence in November of 2017.
The police were responding to a call made by Dueñas’ wife about a domestic violence incident, after what he says was a “misunderstanding.”
Dueñas claims the officers did not identify themselves as police and pointed guns at him. He alleges the police began beating him with batons and fists even though, Dueñas said, he offered no resistance once he realized they were officers of the law. They then dragged him outside and tasered him several times.
“They beat me and made me bleed. They tasered me while I was hobbled (handcuffed and hog tied). I was not a threat to them,” Dueñas said.
A 36-second video recorded by a neighbor shows two officers dressed in uniform restraining Dueñas on the ground outside his apartment. Dueñas yells as the sound of a taser is overheard and a woman is heard saying, “Don’t do that. He didn’t do nothing.”
Dueñas continues screaming as he tells police ‘F…k man, leave me alone. I didn’t do nothing to you.”
Two more police officers in uniform later show up as the video ends.
Dueñas’ attorney Duane Folke said two people — a mother and daughter — took videos of the November confrontation with the cameras in their cell phones. The video taken by the mother is the one that was released onto social media. Folke added that the video has been entered as evidence for the lawsuit.
“He has neurological damage,” said Folke, in describing Dueñas’ injuries. [The police] ran a taser along the side of his body. Not just an initial shock, but where they physically burned it into him.
“Along with bruises to his face, [the police] broke his nose to where he still can’t breathe. He’s going to have to have plastic surgery.”
According to Dueñas and Folke, this was the second time police officers from Foothill Division assaulted him. In August of 2017, Dueñas said he was pulled out of his car in front of his home and beaten, leaving him with bumps and bruises.
There is no video of that incident, allegedly prompted by “criminal threats” Dueñas supposedly made.
“I’ve been a victim of police brutality,” said Dueñas, who added he was taken to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center where he alleges he was “denied treatment” for nearly an hour.
The lawsuit states that Dueñas arrived at the hospital’s emergency room with “cuts, scars, bruises, abrasions, bleeding from his nose and ears; with a broken nose, none of which was ‘addressed’ or promptly and competently ‘treated.’”
Moreover, he says, no charges were filed against him.
While the lawsuit seeks undetermined monetary damages, what’s more important to him, Dueñas said, is “justice.”
“(I want police officers) to have the right conduct and that this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I’m fortunate because I survived.”
His attorney added that “overreactions” by police against citizens like Dueñas still happen much too frequently in communities of color.
“There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,500 LAPD officers,” Folke said. “Most of them do a good job. But unfortunately, we have officers not only in the African American community, but in the Latino community who ‘overreact.’ You hear about it on a regular basis in the African American community, but very seldom do you hear about it in the Latino community.
“Obviously, during this time in our nation, people are more aware of the fact police violence occurs on a regular basis, and it might make them more open to considering damages when people file lawsuits. But some people don’t realize it happens all the time because we don’t [always] have it on video. We need to make some changes. [Too often] you don’t have resources available for people to make complaints. Or they make complaints and nothing happens.”
Attorney Has Ongoing Suit Against LAPD
Folke said he’s also filed his own lawsuit against LAPD after being detained by LAPD officers from Wilshire and Van Nuys divisions on four occasions between March and April 2019.
He said those detentions were for alleged threats he had made.
“I don’t threaten anyone,” Folke noted. “I got the same treatment as my client, but I don’t have it on video.”
While acknowledging that Dueñas is “no angel,” Folke said there was no reason for the police to beat him and treat him in the manner alleged in the lawsuit.
“That was as a result of them coming to his house on a claim of domestic violence that has now since been dismissed. Everybody realizes they overreacted,” the attorney said.
“I spent 10 years as the legal advisor for the Compton Police Department. I know this from both sides: the side of the prosecutor and the side of representing individuals in the criminal justice system.”
Dueñas, according to the lawsuit, suffers from “excruciating headaches, cramps, and vomiting due to the injuries sustained at the hands of the defendants.” He also has difficulty breathing and “severe emotional distress, including nightmares and an inability to sleep.”
In addition, “plainclothes” and uniformed officers from the Foothill Division have “continued to harass, contact, and follow Dueñas, coming to his home at all hours since the case was filed, in an attempt to ‘intimidate’ him under the pretense of investigating different matters, and that he has also been labeled a ‘gang member,’ the lawsuit states.
Folke said he would not rule out the possibility of a settlement.
“We’ve got a couple of months left (before a trial), and we’ll try to do mediation and hopefully resolve the case,” he said. “But I want to make a difference. I want the Los Angeles Police Department and the city of Los Angeles to use these cases of how they can do better. And that includes paying my client for the wrong that they did.
“Nobody deserves this type of tragedy.”