Civil Rights Suit Filed Against Fairfield Police for Racial Profiling, Battery and False Arrest at Local In-N-Out Burger

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Three African-American college students have filed suit against the city of Fairfield, several of its police officers and In-N-Out Burger stemming from a July 4, 2009 incident at a Fairfield In-N-Out Burger. The lawsuit, filed on March 2, alleges civil rights violations, false arrest and battery.

A lawsuit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on behalf of three African-American college students who are charging the City of Fairfield, several of its police officers, and In-N-Out Burger with civil rights violations, false arrest and battery (Hall, Rankin and Sanders v. City of Fairfield, et. al.; Case No. 2:10-CV-00508-GEB-DAD).

The lawsuit stems from a July 4, 2009 incident at the In-N-Out Burger in Fairfield, Calif. A group of six African-American college students, three of whom are plaintiffs, entered the restaurant at 12:55 a.m., shortly after the restaurant's manager called the police to report a disturbance by an unrelated group. The complaint indicates that the unrelated group departed when the officers arrived. However, the officers allegedly targeted the second group of students, ordering them out of the restaurant for trespassing without further explanation, following them to their vehicle, and demanding they leave the parking lot - despite the fact that they were not parties to the disturbance, were not at the restaurant when the manager called the police, and the driver of their vehicle was still inside waiting for food she had ordered.

The complaint describes a situation in the parking lot that quickly became charged, with officers pulling one female student from the vehicle, throwing another a distance of seven feet and slamming her against the car, and throwing another to the ground, after which all were handcuffed. The third plaintiff in the case, a male student who was leaving the parking lot per police orders, allegedly was grabbed by an arriving officer, forced to the ground and handcuffed. The incident was captured on video by a bystander and is posted on YouTube:

"I've spent the majority of my career defending police departments and officers against charges of brutality, false arrest and the like, however, this situation is egregious enough to make me work on the other side. In-N-Out surveillance cameras captured the entire incident on a date- and time-stamped recording. The officers clearly over-reacted, profiled and targeted our clients because of their race," said Edwin J. Wilson, Jr., a partner with Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP, who is representing the plaintiffs.

"These cases often come down to the credibility of the parties and witnesses, but this case is different because most of what happened was caught on video. If the City of Fairfield and the District Attorney's office just took a few minutes to review these videos, they would see that these kids did nothing wrong. Instead, these kids now have arrest records and are facing criminal prosecution, because they happened to be black and at the wrong place at the wrong time," added Garret D. Murai, also a Wendel Rosen partner.

According to the complaint, a female, Caucasian bystander attempted to provide the officers with information that these students had done nothing wrong, but one of the officers pulled out a taser gun, pointed it at her head and told her "this is none of your concern."

The complaint also names the In-N-Out Burger manager, who was not present during the incident outside the restaurant, and describes his completion of a citizen's arrest complaint after the officers had already arrested the students. In-N-Out Burger's Assistant General Counsel, Allen McNamee, requested that the charges against the three students be dropped in a July 14 letter to the Deputy District Attorney; however, this request has been ignored.

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Edwin J. Wilson
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