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September 22, 2014

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Lawsuit filed in LA woman’s pummeling by patrolman

LOS ANGELES — A woman seen in a video being pummeled by a California Highway Patrol officer alongside a Los Angeles freeway filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday.

The lawsuit that attorney Caree Harper filed in federal court on behalf of Marlene Pinnock names the commissioner of the CHP, the unidentified officer in the July 1 video and other officers as defendants.

The now-viral video recorded by a passing driver shows Pinnock, 51, being repeatedly punched as she's straddled by the officer.

The lawsuit claims excessive force, assault, battery and a violation of Pinnock's due process rights. It states that Pinnock "suffered great mental and physical pain, suffering, anguish, fright, nervousness, anxiety, grief shock, humiliation, indignity, and embarrassment" and seeks monetary damages to be determined at trial.

CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow told The Associated Press that he had not yet seen the lawsuit and the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation. He has met with community and civil rights leaders in Los Angeles multiple times since the incident and has pledged that the agency's internal investigation will conclude in weeks rather than the usual months.

"We do have a good history at taking a look at our processes, procedures and conduct of our employees," Farrow said. "That's never been questioned until today."

The CHP has said Pinnock was walking on Interstate 10 west of downtown Los Angeles, endangering herself and motorists, and the officer was trying to restrain her. Pinnock had begun walking off the freeway but returned when the confrontation occurred.

Harper said Pinnock remains hospitalized with head injuries. The CHP hasn't released the identity of the officer, who had been on the job for 1 1/2 years; he's on desk duty pending completion of the internal investigation.

Nine drivers called 911 to report Pinnock before the beating, according to recordings the CHP released Thursday in response to a public records request by The Associated Press. The callers worriedly told operators the woman was barefoot on the shoulder or attempting to cross lanes of traffic.

One caller said she appeared high or drunk. Another said she appeared "loaded."

Earlier this week, CHP investigators seized Pinnock's medical records and the clothing she was wearing during the incident. She claims in the lawsuit that the CHP's actions were an effort to shift blame to Pinnock by "misusing the criminal justice system to obtain privileged and private information to discredit (Pinnock) ... or circumvent the discovery rules in civil rights violation matters."

Farrow couldn't confirm the search warrant Wednesday but told the AP: "I don't think the CHP is trying to put her on trial or make it an issue about her. What I'm looking at is entirely about the circumstances, we all saw what happened. Our job is to find out the why and the how."

The incident has drawn outrage from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who called it police brutality and demanded the officer be fired, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

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