Federal judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit against Carson City

Federal judge Ed Reed has refused to dismiss the lawsuit against Carson City and one of its courthouse bailiffs, charging violations of a protester's civil rights.

Tonja Brown was arrested and charged with trespassing, obstruction and resisting an officer in June 2002 following a protest outside the city courthouse. She and several others had been outside protesting the court's refusal to release a grand jury report critical of the court and district attorney's office.

Brown said she ran into trouble when she went inside to sit down and rest because of a back condition. During the confrontation with bailiff Roy Eddings, Brown charged he confiscated her protest sign then physically bumped her out of the way, injuring her when she tried to stop him.

Brown was then allegedly ordered out of the courthouse entry area and told no one was allowed to rest on the bench there because it was for visitors removing shoes before passing through the metal detector.

She was arrested and convicted of the charges in Carson District Court. When the district attorney's office refused her complaints about the arrest, Brown sued in federal district court, accusing Eddings and two other bailiffs present at the time of violating her free-speech rights and her right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

She also accused Eddings of using unreasonable and excessive force in making the arrest.

Judge Reed dismissed the other bailiffs from the lawsuit and dismissed the free-speech and search-and-seizure claims, saying the rules in the courthouse were reasonable and legal.

But he refused to dismiss the charge of excessive force against Eddings. Reed ruled there is evidence Eddings knew Brown had a back condition, and that he was told he was hurting her by putting her in a wrist lock and forcing her to the ground. Reed also found evidence she suffered extensive back injuries from the incident.

As a result of the injuries, Brown alleged she required shoulder surgery.

There is also evidence, the judge wrote, that Brown was calm and peaceful, not violent, in response to the order she leave the security area of the courthouse.

"For these reasons, we find that there exists an issue of material fact as to whether excessive force was used in violation of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights," the judge wrote.

The ruling sends the case against Eddings and Carson City as his employer forward to trial in Reno's federal district court.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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