Fullerton police face wrongful arrest lawsuit

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Fullerton police are now facing new legal problems. A man who says he was wrongly arrested is suing the city police department in federal court.

The lawsuit by 35-year-old Veth Mam claims Fullerton officers were wrong when they arrested him in October as he used a cell phone video camera to record them taking one of his friends into custody.

Mam said officers slapped the cell phone out of his hand and grabbed him, claiming he’d jumped on an officer’s back and choked him.

Mam said Friday he was the one who got jumped, not the officer.

"The thing I remember is that they grabbed me by the sleeve and slammed the phone down and then just tossed me around, and I figured, well, maybe they'll let me go right away,'' Mam said. "Once he grabbed me down and just slammed me around, I was scared. I mean, what can I do?''

Last month, an Orange County jury acquitted Mam of assault, battery and resisting arrest after watching the video he’d begun recording the night he was arrested.

A spokesman for the Fullerton police says Mam was arrested in error.

Mam's lawsuit alleges that officers Kenton Hampton, Frank Nguyen, Jonathan Miller and Daniel Solorio, among others, falsified information in a combined effort to conceal excessive force used in Mam's arrest.

The suit claims that officers knew Mam was innocent of the charges and that his rights were being violated and did nothing to rectify the situation. It also contends that the city and Police Chief Michael Sellers condoned a history of officer misconduct and "encouraged an atmosphere of lawlessness.''

"It's not just what happened that day, it's what happened afterward,'' attorney Garo Mardirossian said. "Because the officers sat down and wrote reports, they conspired to write reports that would gibe with one another's reports, but it does not gibe with the videotape. The videotape shows something quite different.''

Fullerton police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Goodrich said department officials had "no comment at this point'' about the suit.

Mardirossian said on Friday in Mid-City Los Angeles that Mam’s lawsuit names an officer who may have been involved in last month’s beating of Kelly Thomas — a schizophrenic homeless man who later died.

On July 5, Fullerton officers used a Taser and struck the 37-year-old Thomas several times in an effort to subdue him.

Thomas died five days later. His death has prompted angry protests at recent Fullerton City Council meetings.

The officers involved are on administrative leave. Fullerton’s police chief has left on medical leave. This week, the city hired law enforcement expert Michael Gennaco to review the Thomas arrest and death, and make recommendations about Fullerton police training and policies. Gennaco serves as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department watchdog.

KPCC Wire Services contributed to this story