The settlement is yet another in a string of costly excessive force lawsuits against the city of Vallejo. Despite its relatively small size, the Vallejo Police Department has generated a large number of civil rights lawsuits and settlement payouts.
In January 2019, Adrian Burrell, a documentary filmmaker and former Marine, saw the police stopping his cousin. Burrell used his cell phone to record the traffic stop from his porch. When Vallejo police officer David McLaughlin saw Burrell filming him, he ordered him to get back, although Burrell was standing about 20 to 30 feet. Burrell refused.
Multiple federal appeals courts have upheld a broad First Amendment right to film the police, so long as one isn't obstructing them from their duties. This is where the interaction between Burrell and McLaughlin should have ended.
Instead, McLaughlin holstered his gun, turned his back on the suspect he had moments ago considered an apparent threat, and approached Burrell. "You're interfering with me, my man?" McLaughlin asked. "You're interfering, you're going to get one from the back of the car."
"That's fine," Burrell responded. The officer started handcuffing Burrell, and told him to "stop resisting."
"I'm not resisting you," Burrell said.
"Stop fighting or you're going to go on the ground," McLaughlin said. Burrell's cell phone did not capture what happened next, but his lawsuit claims that McLaughlin swung him to the ground and knocked his head against a wooden pillar on Burrell's porch.
Burrell was then detained in the back of a police car. He has said that McLaughlin released him after finding that he was a military veteran.
Last year, Vallejo paid $270,698 to Santiago Hutchins to settle another excessive force lawsuit filed against McLaughlin. Hutchins and McLaughlin, who was off-duty and out of uniform at the time, got into an argument in a parking lot outside of a pizzeria. McLaughlin pulled a gun and held Hutchins at gunpoint until several other officers arrived and took Hutchins to the ground. A cellphone video taken by a bystander showed McLaughlin then savagely punching and elbowing Hutchins as he was being held down.
According to his lawsuit, Hutchins suffered "a concussion, right eye hematoma, facial pain, headache, swelling in the head, face contusions, face lacerations, muscle strains, and rib contusions" as a result of the beating.
McLaughlin is also one of several Vallejo police officers alleged to be part of a group of Vallejo officers who bent the tips of their star-shaped badges to mark fatal shootings. McLaughlin testified in court earlier this year that a Vallejo police lieutenant bent the tips of his and his partner's badges following a 2016 shooting.
"I was assaulted by a police officer who participated in blood rituals, the bending of badges to celebrate murders of Black and Brown folks," Burrell declared in a statement to local news outlets through his attorney. "No amount of money can give back what was taken from me during this violent assault nor during the dehumanizing, patronizing and disrespectful litigation process." But with the money awarded to him, he continues, he plans to found "a non-profit organization that will provide the families of individuals who are affected by police violence, and the survivors of community violence time and space to heal."
McLaughlin is still a Vallejo police officer.