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City to pay illegally detained San Diego couple $450K

Officer mistakenly ID'ed car as stolen — punched in wrong tag number

A San Diego couple falsely detained, pepper-sprayed, and stung with a taser gun will receive $450,000 in exchange for dropping their case against the city and police officers who errantly flagged their Pontiac Sunfire as stolen after punching in the wrong tag number.

On Tuesday, December 17, city councilmembers will give the approval needed to settle the case brought by Dante Harrell and Shannon Robinson.

The incident occurred in March of 2010 as Harrell and then-fiancée Robinson were driving to Canada Steak Burger at 36th and University Avenue in City Heights.

According to court documents, officers Ariel Savage and Daniel McClain spotted the maroon Sunfire and ran the plates to check if it was stolen. One of the officers accidentally typed in the wrong plate number and the car came back as a Honda, not a Pontiac. They turned on their lights and pulled the couple over.

Before exiting the car, the officers realized their mistake. After typing in the correct numbers, the car came back clean. Yet, despite the new information, Savage and McClain continued with an investigation, asking the pair for identification and vehicle registration.

Shortly after, as reported by 10News in June of this year, Robinson called 911. While on the phone, the officers grabbed at her, eventually pepper-spraying the pair after they refused to exit the vehicle. They tased Harrell multiple times as well.

In May of this year, after years of court hearings, U.S District Court judge Anthony Battaglia ruled that the officers had violated the couple's Fourth Amendment rights.

"Defendants’ initial stop of Plaintiffs' vehicle constituted a permissible investigative detention of limited scope consistent with the Fourth Amendment, because it was not until after the Officers initiated the stop that they discovered they had made a mistake. However, upon realizing the mistake regarding the license plate, the Court finds Officer Savage's further detention and investigation of the Plaintiffs and request for identification was unconstitutional because the reasonable suspicion for the stop had dissipated when the Plaintiffs' license plate was re-checked and found to match the make and model of Plaintiffs' vehicle," reads Battaglia's ruling.

"Defendant Officers both admit that they knew before making contact with the Plaintiffs that basis for their initial suspicion that the vehicle might be stolen was unfounded and that no violation had occurred. The Defendants' mistake created the reasonable suspicion and when the Defendants realized their mistake, further investigation was both unnecessary and unwarranted."

Now, months after losing the case, the City of San Diego is trying to cut their loses.

According to a staff report prepared for Tuesday's council hearing, the $450,000 will be split three ways: $210,000 will be awarded to the couple and their passengers; $89,500 will go to Pacific Life and Annuity Services, Inc.; and $89,500 will be paid to BARCO Assignments, Ltd.

The reason for the payments to Pacific Life and Annuity and BARCO Assignments is not certain. According to BARCO Assignments website, the agency, based out of Barbados, "provides tax deferred solutions to a wide range of non-qualified settlements in a manner that reflects the time honored of excellence inherent to the structured settlement industry."

The City Attorney's Office has not yet responded to questions about the two payments. The story will be updated when a response is provided.

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A San Diego couple falsely detained, pepper-sprayed, and stung with a taser gun will receive $450,000 in exchange for dropping their case against the city and police officers who errantly flagged their Pontiac Sunfire as stolen after punching in the wrong tag number.

On Tuesday, December 17, city councilmembers will give the approval needed to settle the case brought by Dante Harrell and Shannon Robinson.

The incident occurred in March of 2010 as Harrell and then-fiancée Robinson were driving to Canada Steak Burger at 36th and University Avenue in City Heights.

According to court documents, officers Ariel Savage and Daniel McClain spotted the maroon Sunfire and ran the plates to check if it was stolen. One of the officers accidentally typed in the wrong plate number and the car came back as a Honda, not a Pontiac. They turned on their lights and pulled the couple over.

Before exiting the car, the officers realized their mistake. After typing in the correct numbers, the car came back clean. Yet, despite the new information, Savage and McClain continued with an investigation, asking the pair for identification and vehicle registration.

Shortly after, as reported by 10News in June of this year, Robinson called 911. While on the phone, the officers grabbed at her, eventually pepper-spraying the pair after they refused to exit the vehicle. They tased Harrell multiple times as well.

In May of this year, after years of court hearings, U.S District Court judge Anthony Battaglia ruled that the officers had violated the couple's Fourth Amendment rights.

"Defendants’ initial stop of Plaintiffs' vehicle constituted a permissible investigative detention of limited scope consistent with the Fourth Amendment, because it was not until after the Officers initiated the stop that they discovered they had made a mistake. However, upon realizing the mistake regarding the license plate, the Court finds Officer Savage's further detention and investigation of the Plaintiffs and request for identification was unconstitutional because the reasonable suspicion for the stop had dissipated when the Plaintiffs' license plate was re-checked and found to match the make and model of Plaintiffs' vehicle," reads Battaglia's ruling.

"Defendant Officers both admit that they knew before making contact with the Plaintiffs that basis for their initial suspicion that the vehicle might be stolen was unfounded and that no violation had occurred. The Defendants' mistake created the reasonable suspicion and when the Defendants realized their mistake, further investigation was both unnecessary and unwarranted."

Now, months after losing the case, the City of San Diego is trying to cut their loses.

According to a staff report prepared for Tuesday's council hearing, the $450,000 will be split three ways: $210,000 will be awarded to the couple and their passengers; $89,500 will go to Pacific Life and Annuity Services, Inc.; and $89,500 will be paid to BARCO Assignments, Ltd.

The reason for the payments to Pacific Life and Annuity and BARCO Assignments is not certain. According to BARCO Assignments website, the agency, based out of Barbados, "provides tax deferred solutions to a wide range of non-qualified settlements in a manner that reflects the time honored of excellence inherent to the structured settlement industry."

The City Attorney's Office has not yet responded to questions about the two payments. The story will be updated when a response is provided.

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Comments
8

The cops actually admitted they knew the car was clean, and yet proceeded to do the "investigation?" They both were "felony stupid", and admitted it. Are either of those two "Keystone Kops" still SD sworn officers of the law? I'd assume that the cops, after making an improper stop, didn't want to lose face, and went ahead to make it look normal. If they are still employed as cops anywhere in the nation, we all should live in fear. The SDPD has had its bad moments many, many times, and this is just the last instance. How about a new chief of police and a whole new SDPD? Try it again, and the city might get it right.

Dec. 12, 2013

Didn't the city recently claim they found millions of dollars that would result in a surplus? At this rate, even this alleged surplus will disappear quickly.

Dec. 12, 2013

The City still has to pay Filner's accusers off. The City's going to run out of dough at the rate these lawsuits are being paid off. Also, the City took a $30 million hit to the gonads when Jan (Smitty) Goldsmith forgot to tell the insurance company about the sewer gas lawsuit. Smitty claimed the sewer gas was caused by condo owners eating too much Mexican food and said the City was not liable.

Dec. 13, 2013

Dumbass cops! The woman was trying to call the real cops to straighten this mess out. How ironic.

Dec. 12, 2013

Yes I did try to get their supervisor out but when they realized I called they called for immediate cover I’ve move from my hometown to Texas and to this day have issues with officer in uniform and only one officer left before being fired the other were still with the police dept just transferred to other stations.

Feb. 8, 2022

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that the plaintiffs cashed in on their case early via one of those TV ads that promises "cash now for your lawsuit victory later!"

Dec. 14, 2013

And you’re very wrong it took 2 yrs and I had already relocated to Texas and own a farm. PTSD is still very real from that interaction so I live deep in the country now.

Feb. 8, 2022

But what did the taxpayers of San Diego do wrong here?

The two cops should be on the hook individually for their bad acts. Instead, we continually send a message... "It's OK for 'public servants' to do whatever they want, because the worst that will happen is the taxpayers write another checks while those who did bad deeds stroll off into the sunset with jobs and salaries and benefits and pensions safely intact"

I wish I could have a job where I could do whatever I wanted to, and someone else wrote checks to cover the damages.

Dec. 15, 2013

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