UPDATE: The city of San Diego has settled a lawsuit filed against two of its officers.
Whitney Mathis filed the suit in January of this year. She claimed officers punched her in the head and slammer her into the hood of a car.
A local woman is suing the San Diego Police Department, claiming an officer slammed her into the hood of a car and punched her in the head.
“My jaw hurt a lot, I mean, there were wounds on my face,” said Whitney Mathis, of San Diego. “I was pretty scared.”
Mathis says in February of 2014 she was a passenger in her boyfriend’s car when they were pulled over on their way home. An officer asked her boyfriend to get out because he was suspected of driving under the influence.
According to the lawsuit, when Mathis saw her boyfriend being handcuffed, she exited the vehicle and began protesting his arrest, explaining they were already near their home. The lawsuit alleges Police Officer Laura Smith approached Mathis, grabbed her and slammed her head and upper body onto the hood of a vehicle before placing her in handcuffs.
According to the suit, Mathis began crying, “I want to go home,” when Officer Larry Howell approached her and punched her in the face with a closed fist. Her head hit the concrete as a result of the blow causing a serious head injury and abrasions to her face and head, the lawsuit stated.
“It’s hard to imagine a scenario where it would make sense for an officer to punch someone with a closed fist in the face, while that person was already in handcuffs,” Mathis’ attorney Joseph McMullen said.
The suit alleges the officers then lifted Mathis off the ground and slammed her to the ground again. Instead of calling the paramedics for medical attention the police took her to a women’s jail, according to the lawsuit. Although she was taken to jail, but no charges were filed, her attorney said.
McMullen said there were no officer body or dash cameras showing what happened that night. He claims there is only a recorded 9-1-1 call by Mathis' boyfriend asking for assistance while he was handcuffed.
"When you have to dial 9-1-1 to stop an attack by the police, there's something really wrong there,” McMullen said.
In this case, Mathis said it's hard to grasp what happened to her.
"They just need to be held accountable," she said.
SDPD would not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
In September, SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said a preliminary review of the department’s one-year-old body camera program suggests that the uniform-mounted devices can help reduce officers' use of force in the field and simultaneously lessen citizens' accusations of misconduct against them.
Deployment of the audio-video recorders apparently contributed to an eight percent drop in "greater controlling force" used by officers in three of the SDPD's nine geographic divisions over the 12 months beginning in July of 2014, according to the department.
While officers' use of “greater force” dropped during the studied period, instances of less intensive compliance tactics -- such as guiding an uncooperative suspect's hands behind his or her back for handcuffing purposes -- increased by 17 percent, possibly as a direct result, according to the SDPD's analysis.
In December, the San Diego City Council voted to purchase 144 more body cameras for police officers.