A current Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy with a history of excessive force complaints was the principal officer named in a civil rights lawsuit settled by the City of Vallejo for $750,000 this week.
Attorneys for Carl Edwards sued the City of Vallejo after Spencer Muniz-Bottomley and three other Vallejo police officers severely beat Edwards in July 2017 after allegedly mistaking him for a suspect.
In October 2018, the Vallejo Times-Herald reported that Bottomley was no longer employed by the Vallejo Police Department. Bottomley has been employed by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office since 2018.
When asked whether any use-of-force complaints have been filed against Bottomley since he joined the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, spokesperson Misti Wood told the Bohemian, “The Government Code prevents us from releasing information from Deputy Bottomley’s personnel file.”
Senate Bill 1421 is a state law that requires agencies to release some records from an officer’s personnel file if they are involved in an officer-involved shooting or use of force resulting in great bodily injury or death; Wood said that Bottomley has not been involved in any incidents that meet those thresholds.
Court documents reveal that a judge in Edwards’ case against Vallejo granted parts of Edwards’ motion for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to turn over Bottomley’s application for employment as well as any subsequent or prior complaints against the officer.
Michael Haddad, Edwards’ attorney, told the Bohemian that those documents were released confidentially and are not available to the public. Still, he added, Bottomely’s track record is troubling.
“Based on the cases I’ve handled against him, seeing how he operated in Vallejo, I am concerned for the residents of Sonoma County that he may encounter,” said Haddad.
The Bohemian asked via email whether the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department was aware of the use-of-force complaints and lawsuits that occurred against Bottomley when they hired him. Wood responded that the office cannot share that information because it is part of his personnel file.
According to a recent job posting provided by Wood, the agency’s background check process includes an assessment of prior work history, verifying educational experiences, court reports, public records searches, and more. The process can take three to five months and includes gathering a significant amount of information from candidates and speaking to former employers, friends, family members, as well as polygraphs. Deception is grounds for disqualification, even after hire.
Another part of the job posting states that applicants “shall not have been convicted of a felony in this state or any other state or in any federal jurisdiction.”
The Vallejo incident involving Edwards began when a mother called 911 to report that a man dressed in black jeans and a white tank top was shooting rocks from a slingshot at her sons. The caller told officers Mark Thompson and Bret Wagoner that Edwards was not the suspect, but the officers radioed to Bottomley to go contact Edwards, describing him as a man wearing brown pants and a gray shirt. Body-worn camera footage reveals that Bottomley approached Edwards as Edwards repaired a fence on his property and almost immediately placed him in a chokehold.
The other officers then joined Bottomley in beating Edwards as he lay on the ground. At one point, as they move to place Edwards in handcuffs, an officer says, “If you have to break, break it,” referring to Edwards’ arm.
Edwards sustained a fractured nose, multiple lacerations and contusions, and injury to his shoulder. Haddad said, “I’ve been doing this almost 30 years and I can count on one hand the cases I’ve seen where someone got beaten up as badly as Carl did, especially when they were totally innocent.”
Bottomley is the subject of at least three other excessive-force complaints filed during his time as an officer in Vallejo, where he was employed from July 2015 until 2018.
The most high-profile case took place in March 2017, when Bottomley was filmed beating Dejuan Hall, a 23-year-old homeless man who was shouting, “I am God,” before and during the encounter.
Haddad also represented Hall in a civil rights case filed against Bottomley and the other officers involved. In a rare occurrence, city officials settled the case for $75,000 before it advanced to a lawsuit.
Haddad told the Vallejo Times-Herald, “This usually indicates the city realizes there is a significant liability.”
As of June 2019, despite the settlement in the civil rights case, Hall was in county jail awaiting a trial stemming from the incident, for which he was charged with resisting arrest and trespassing. His criminal lawyer Amy Morton told the Vallejo Times-Herald, “Mr. Hall is in custody because he has no place to go. He’s not a danger, just gravely [mentally] disabled.”
In April 2016, Bottomley and four other officers allegedly kicked, punched and struck Derrick Lamoris Shields with flashlights while he was lying face down on the ground.
The case alleged, “As a result of the police beating, plaintiff lost consciousness, experienced bruises all over his body and spine, swollen face, fractured jaw, abrasions, and broken teeth.”
Shield’s lawsuit was dismissed from court in November 2017 after the court could not serve documents to Shields, who failed to provide a change of address.
In August 2015, officers answered two calls for a welfare check on Jimmy Brooks, whose mother reported he was feeling suicidal. According to Brooks’ claim, he saw officers approaching his home and felt unsafe. He walked towards his mother’s house and hid under her porch for two hours. When he regained a sense of safety, he emerged from the porch and was swarmed by a group of officers who struck him with batons.
According to the complaint, “Plaintiff Brooks was then arrested and at no point offered medical treatment for his injuries. As a result of the [officers] use of excessive force, Plaintiff Brooks suffered a fractured right ankle and fractured right fibula. Plaintiff Brooks also received several stitches to mend lacerations on his legs and upper body.”
Bottomley was one of seven officers named in the case, though at the time it was settled for $50,000, his name and two other officers’ names had been removed.
EDITOR’S NOTE, NOV. 27: The ninth paragraph of this article has been updated to clarify Wood’s response to a question from the Bohemian about the Sheriff’s Office’s knowledge of Bottomley’s record when they hired him. Wood says that agency cannot disclose whether they knew of complaints against Bottomley when they hired him. The paragraph previously stated that Wood did not respond to that question.