A 65-year-old Northern California man was paralyzed after being slammed to the ground during a traffic stop where police officers used “pain compliance” techniques and expressed disbelief when he repeatedly cried out “I can’t feel my legs,” according to a lawsuit announced Wednesday.
Police video released by lawyers for Gregory Gross shows the incident and his arrival at a hospital, where Gross is handcuffed to a bed, his nose bloodied.
“You want to grab his arms and flop him up on the bed?” someone asks after Gross tells a medical worker that he can’t feel his legs. They then do so while placing him in a sitting position without restraining his neck or spine.
“Don’t tell me again you can’t move,” a medical worker tells Gross later as he is prepared for a full body scan. Gross ultimately required two surgeries to fuse his spine. In separate lawsuits, Gross alleges the combination of police and medical misconduct left him unable to walk or care for himself, and he will require round-the-clock nursing care for the rest of his life.
Get a weekly recap of the latest San Francisco Bay Area housing news. Sign up for NBC Bay Area’s Housing Deconstructed newsletter.
He sued Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville, along with the University of California, Davis, Medical Center and individual medical workers, last August. The new lawsuit claims Yuba City Police Officer Joshua Jackson broke Gross’ neck. It names Jackson, fellow officers Scott Hansen and Nathan Livingston, and Yuba City. The lawsuit alleges Hansen assisted in Jackson's repeated use of force and that Livingston failed to intervene.
Jackson has not been employed by the Yuba City Police Department since February 2021, the department said Wednesday. Officials there could not immediately say if he had his own attorney.
The department and Yuba City said in a joint statement that they had not been served with the lawsuit and couldn't comment. Rideout hospital officials did not respond to telephone and emailed comment requests.
“It's about police brutality that destroyed his life," said Gross' attorney Moseley Collins. Along with obtaining enough money to pay for his lifelong care, Collins said, "Greg doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Gross, an Army veteran who lives in Yuba City, was accused of driving drunk and causing a slow-speed collision in April 2020. He faces a jury trial in March in Sutter County, north of Sacramento, on charges of misdemeanor DUI, hit-and-run and resisting arrest.
In the police body camera video supplied by Gross' lawyers, an officer identified as Jackson is seen twisting Gross' handcuffed arms and forcibly seating him on a lawn.
“You can start going with the program,” the officer tells Gross as he protests that “I didn't do nothing” and “that hurts.”
“It's called pain compliance," another officer says, to which Gross — now seated with his head forced forward — replies that he is not resisting.
“It will continue to hurt if you don't shut up and listen,” an officer tells Gross as he repeatedly and profanely insists he is in pain.
Timothy T. Williams Jr., a police tactics expert who spent nearly 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, said that based on the video, the officers seemed to overreact.
Pain compliance, such as using a wrist lock, is a common technique with someone who is resisting, he said. But in this case, Gross was already in handcuffs and being escorted to a patrol car.
“Apparently he just wasn't moving fast enough for them,” Williams said.
“From what I observed, there was no need for pain compliance,” he added. “There was no need to drive him to the ground.”
He also questioned the officer twisting and suddenly raising Gross' handcuffed arms.
“That's something that during my time wasn’t taught,” said Williams, who served from 1974-2003. "If you don’t know what you’re doing you can remove it (his shoulder) from its socket.”
Officers later restrained Gross facedown on the lawn outside the hospital.
“I can't breathe, I can't breathe,” Gross says.
“You're talking. You can breathe,” officers tell Gross as he moans and slurs his words, his nose now bloodied and a cut over his eyebrow.
“I can't feel my legs” Gross says repeatedly as he is placed in a wheelchair. “I can't feel my arms.”
“Mr. Gross, we are done with your silly little games,” an officer tells him.
Later, inside the hospital, Jackson tells Gross: “I only slammed you on the ground one time, sir, and it was very controlled.”
Williams said officers seem to have acted improperly by ignoring Gross’ repeated complaints about not feeling his limbs.
“You don’t make that assumption. You’re not a doctor, you don’t know what the person is going through,” Williams said.
Gross said he had been physically active before his injury, working as a seasonal truck driver, walking his dogs for 2-4 miles at a time, swimming and cooking.
He now spends his time in a hospital bed in his living room. Though he can move his arms, he said he can't write or perform other activities because his fingers are contracted with paralysis.
“I just pretty much lay in bed all day," said Gross, who was wheeled into a news conference strapped to a gurney. "I’m just existing right now, basically.”
Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed to this story.