Suit Charges Berkeley Police with False Arrest, Battery

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday May 09, 2006

A former Berkeley resident alleges in a lawsuit filed in federal court two weeks ago that a Union City police detective chased him, tackled him, then punched him repeatedly after he broke the mirror of the officer’s personal vehicle, while dodging the vehicle that was about to hit him. 

The suit also charges that Berkeley Police Officers Sgt. Michael Dougherty and Samantha Speelman helped the Union City officer, Detective Michael Ward, accomplish what the complaint calls “false arrest, false imprisonment (and) assault and battery.” 

A police report written by Dougherty of the Nov. 1, 2004, incident summarizes the incident thus: “Off-duty Union City Police Detective Ward is a victim of malicious damage to his personal vehicle by suspect Michael Salisbury, arrested via citizens’ arrest by Det. Ward.”  

In December, a judge threw out a misdemeanor charge of vandalism against Salisbury, who now lives in Oakland, arising from the incident. 

Salisbury’s attorney Katya Komisaruk, says witnesses’ depositions tell a story of an out-of-control police detective and a pair of Berkeley officers that sided with him, rather than listening to witnesses. 

Witnesses said that Michael Salisbury, then a 25-year-old community college student, was crossing San Pablo Ave. in the crosswalk going west. Ward was driving his SUV and, with his head turned, was talking to his wife in the front passenger seat. Berkeley resident Rita Duarte, a retired business executive, said in her deposition that she was driving down San Pablo directly behind Ward, and that Ward was not watching the road. “The SUV almost hit Salisbury, but at the last minute he jumped out of the way to avoid being struck. Salisbury reeled around and put his hands up, fending off the SUV as it went by. I heard the sound of shattering glass,” she said. 

Other witnesses reported that at that point, the detective became enraged and yelled at Salisbury, saying he’d broken the SUV mirror. They said he made an illegal U-turn on San Pablo, driving recklessly in his pursuit of the young man by going east on Oregon Street and then south on Wallace Street. 

Ward caught up to Salisbury, exited his vehicle, chased and tackled the young man, according to the testimony of witness Stephen Gagnon, a radiologist at Alta Bates Hospital. He said Salisbury was lying face down mostly on the grassy median between the sidewalk and the street with Ward straddling him. Ward was “gripping Salisbury’s left hand with his own left hand, forcing Salisbury’s arm up behind his back,” Gagnon said. “Ward began punching the side of Salisbury’s head with his right fist, landing extremely focused, forceful blows. Salisbury cried out, ‘Stop! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’” 

Ward’s attorney, Kim Colwell, who will file a motion to dismiss the case Friday in federal court, does not deny that her client hit Salisbury. Colwell said her client administered a “distraction blow,” which she said is appropriate when a suspect is uncooperative. 

Colwell further argued that it was appropriate for Ward to take it upon himself to arrest Salisbury. “A police officer is charged with different responsibilities by law,” she said. “They are sworn by the State of California to protect the laws of the State of California.” That includes the time they are off duty, she said, arguing that Salisbury might have gotten away had Ward called local police rather than intervening personally.  

Komisaruk said if Salisbury were indeed a fleeing criminal, it might be appropriate for an off-duty police officer to get involved. If he had committed a felony, it might be appropriate to execute the illegal U-turn and violate traffic laws. “But there is a faulty premise,” she said: no crime had been committed. 

Witnesses said that while straddling Salisbury, Ward identified himself as a Union City police officer and asked them to call 911, which they did. 

Soon thereafter, according to witnesses, Berkeley officers Speelman and Dougherty arrived on the scene. Ward reached into his back pocket and produced identification showing he was a Union City police officer, according to Gagnon’s testimony. “Then Dougherty opened a case on his belt, withdrew a pair of handcuffs, and handed them to Ward. Ward handcuffed Salisbury,” he went on. 

Ward’s testimony says Dougherty handcuffed the suspect, but Colwell said it doesn’t matter who handcuffed the suspect. It would have been appropriate for either of them to do so, she said. 

Gagnon’s testimony goes on to say that while Salisbury was being cuffed, witness Duarte “kept insisting that Ward was at fault. Speaking to Dougherty, she indicated Salisbury and said, ‘Why are you arresting him? If you’re going to arrest him, you should arrest both of them.’” 

Komisaruk said that while the Berkeley police officers took Ward’s statements at the scene, they did not take Duarte’s statement, although she asked to make one. (She was able to make one the next day.) The attorney added that the police report ignored witness testimony that alleged Ward was at fault in the incident. The police report “was beyond negligent. It was biased,” she charged. 

Further, the complaint alleges, Ward’s Union City supervisor refused to take Duarte’s complaint against Ward. 

Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque declined to comment on the allegations against the Berkeley police officers. “Department policy is not to comment on pending litigation,” said Barbara Myers, assistant to Albuquerque..