SANTA ROSA, CA – A settlement has been reached between the City of Santa Rosa and Andy Ford in the case of Ford v. City of Santa Rosa. This settlement was reached amicably, formally, and finally resolved all issues concerning the Complaint. A monetary settlement was reached in the amount of $575,000, each side to bear their own costs.
Santa Rosa resident Andy Ford is a United States Army veteran who suffered a serious brain injury while serving in Afghanistan. While on patrol in the Kunar Province in 2010, Mr. Ford’s unit was ambushed while on a narrow mountain road. A rocket-propelled grenade exploded directly in front of him, hurling him into the air. He suffered severe burns, extensive damage from shrapnel and a traumatic brain injury. After his initial recovery, Mr. Ford returned to his unit and completed his tour of duty in 2012. Mr. Ford was awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery.
As a result of his traumatic brain injury, Mr. Ford now suffers from an untreatable, and at times debilitating, seizure disorder. The lawsuit, now settled, arose from Mr. Ford’s arrest by Santa Rosa Police on February 12, 2018 under difficult circumstances.
On February 12, 2018, an on-duty officer was flagged down by an individual requesting assistance. The individual pointed to Mr. Ford who appeared disoriented, unsteady and non-verbal. Mr. Ford did not respond to the Officer’s questions, ignored the Officer’s directions, and began to stumble into the adjacent busy roadway. When the Officer attempted to prevent Mr. Ford from entering the roadway, Mr. Ford became aggressive and fought back with physical strength. The Officer called for both medical assistance and police back-up. Ultimately, multiple officers were involved in subduing Mr. Ford, with two injured from Mr. Ford’s direct aggression. When medical assistance, including an ambulance and Santa Rosa Fire, arrived at the scene, a paramedic recognized Mr. Ford. Aware that Mr. Ford was a war veteran with a seizure disorder, he administered a sedative. Mr. Ford was transported by ambulance to a local hospital, treated and diagnosed with a seizure, and medically cleared for booking into the Sonoma County jail on charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Mr. Ford’s confusion, agitation and combativeness at the scene were perceived as deliberate hostility and resistance to the officers, and the matter was referred by Santa Rosa Police to the District Attorney for possible prosecution. The District Attorney initially filed a felony complaint against Mr. Ford, but after completing a fuller investigation, including further review of medical records, the District Attorney dropped the charges, finding insufficient evidence of criminal intent in light of Mr. Ford’s medical condition. It was determined that Mr. Ford’s behavior was an involuntary and unconscious result of his seizure disorder, and thus that Mr. Ford lacked the intent necessary for his actions to be considered a crime.
Mr. Ford filed suit against the City of Santa Rosa and the individual police officers, alleging (a) violation of Mr. Ford’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, (b) violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment against wrongful arrest, and (c) malicious prosecution. Mr. Ford alleged that the responding officers failed to comply with police academy training with respect to interactions with individuals experiencing seizures, omitted critical information in their incident reports, and failed to provide appropriate Miranda warnings. The City, on behalf of itself and the responding officers, deny any liability or material error in what were very challenging and dynamic circumstances.
After conducting initial discovery, the parties to the lawsuit entered into extensive settlement negotiations, ultimately reaching final agreement for resolution of the matter in early April, 2020. In addition to the monetary settlement, the agreement acknowledged several policy reforms which are now in various stages of implementation within the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Following this incident, the Santa Rosa Police Department expanded training to address health issues and better identify disabilities. The Department’s Command Staff is currently training its officers on seizure recognition, improved response to violent seizures, and awareness of the unique needs of people with epilepsy who might be taken into custody. The Santa Rosa Police Department, to best meet the needs of the community, continues to implement national best practices, as recommended by the Epilepsy Foundation, for policing involving persons with epilepsy and seizure disorders.