Teen sues Fresno police over rough arrest

FRESNO, Calif.

The stage is set for an excessive force trial against officers who worked at Hoover High School and went to a nearby restaurant to clear out loitering students. In the newly filed federal lawsuit, Idalia Morgutia-Johnson says they violently threw her out of the place. And some cellphone video could be key evidence.

From inside Big Mama's restaurant, you can see Fresno police officers hauling 15-year-old Idalia Morgutia-Johnson to a patrol car. Eighteen months later, she told Action News a sergeant refused to believe she had placed an order, even after a friend showed the officer a receipt.

"He responded though by grabbing my right arm and twisting my wrist into my back and slamming me on the table I was seated at, and I kept asking him why he was doing this," she said.

Johnson says the sergeant slammed her to the ground outside, and then a friend started recording what was happening. At one point, you can see her flail and kick in the air, but she says she was only fighting to get breath as another officer choked her.

ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it's possible the officers overstepped their authority.

"If they're there ordering food, they have a right to be there," Capozzi said. "If they're not creating any kind of turmoil or ruckus, I don't think there's any right for the police officer to throw them out of the place, especially the way the officer did in this case."

But Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says it's not so simple. He tells Action News the officers were cleared in an internal affairs investigation. Dyer says Johnson resisted and the officers used an appropriate level of force, as they wrote in their reports.

"The officers' accounts of what occurred were supported by adults who were present," he said in a written statement. "The investigation did not reveal any information that would cause us to believe there was any attempt to misrepresent what transpired."

Now a student at Fresno City College, Johnson says she suffered permanent damage to her back. Surgery is probably in her future. And if the video convinces a jury police unnecessarily caused that damage, so is a big payout.

"She is going to be getting a substantial judgment in this case if she can show that the police violated her civil rights," Capozzi said.

Johnson already beat an expulsion hearing at Hoover High, and prosecutors dropped the criminal case against her as well. This federal court case is still in its early stages.

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