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NBC LOCAL NEWS REPORTS ON LA Sheriff Settlement With Woman Over Injuries During Body Search
By Patrick Healy and Frava Burgess | Wednesday, Sep 12, 2012 | Updated 8:46 AM PDT
By Patrick Healy and Frava Burgess:
This summer, LA County paid Carla Sameth a settlement of $199,000 even though the sheriff's department's use of force investigation blamed Sameth for her injuries during a 2009 run in with officers at the Gold Line light rail station in Huntington Park.
Now that the case has been resolved, Sameth is speaking out about the incident for the first time. She wrote a first-person account that was published by the Pasadena Weekly, and Tuesday spoke with NBCLA.
Sameth, a business owner, writer and single mother, was riding the MTA Gold Line home to Pasadena when a deputy asked to see her fare. She could not find the ticket in her purse, only a receipt.
The deputy directed her to get off the train at the next stop, Highland Park. Deeming her "uncooperative," the deputy had a female deputy conduct a pat down body search of Sameth on the station platform.
Sameth said the female deputy, later identified as Veronica Baeza, first instructed her to place her hands on one of the station's metal support columns, then proceeded with the search. Sameth described it as invasive and painful, with the deputy placing her hands inside Sameth's clothing.
"I turned slightly and said, 'Stop, you’re hurting me,'" Sameth recalled. "At that point, she took my head and banged it several times" into the metal column.
Video shot minutes later by an arriving Sherif's Sergeant showed Sameth handcuffed and bloodied with a broken nose. Paramedics transported Sameth to the LA County-University of Southern California Healthcare Network for treatment.
The Sheriff's Use of Force Report did not dispute that Sameth's face had come in contact with the metal column, but contended Sameth did it herself. "Suspect Sameth then leaned forward, pulling away from Deputy Baeza, and struck her face," the report stated.
Two and a half years later, when the Sheriff’s department recommended LA County Supervisors approve payment of the settlement, the attached "Summary Corrective Action Plan" found that "no corrective measures are recommended nor contemplated...the actions taken by the three Sheriff's deputies were reasonable, justified and in compliance with Department policy," the document stated.
"No discipline, no training, It's very disappointing," Sameth said.
Sameth's attorney John Burton called the search on the platform "unjustified," given that Sameth faced nothing more than a citation and gave no indication she posed a threat. Burton believes the initial deputy was annoyed by Sameth complaining about getting a citation and asking for more time to search her handbug for her fare ticket.
"This was purely a retaliatory search," said Burton. "There was no other reason for it."
The LA County Sheriff's Transit Services Commander Patrick Jordan referred questions specific to Sameth's case to the County Counsel's office, which negotiated the settlement. As a matter of policy, being "uncooperative" is a valid reason for a field hand search, Commander Jordan said.
[John Burton notes that, a policy permitting a field hand search merely for being "uncooperative" violates the United States Constitution. In Ms. Sameth's situation, the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officer to be able to "point to specific facts that demonstrate reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous" before a pat down search is performed.]