Veteran Sues North Bay Cities Over Arrest After His Seizure

Afghanistan War vet and purple heart recipient says the lawsuit is about more than excessive force

An Afghanistan War veteran and purple heart recipient is suing the cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma over his arrest and police "betrayal" after he suffered an epileptic seizure.

Andy Ford's lawyer said it was bad enough that police detained him for having a seizure but stresses that it’s what officers did afterward that sparked the federal lawsuit.

It all happened Feb. 12 about a block from the Santa Rosa Police Department in a field. Ford said he was trying to help a homeless woman with her belongings when he blacked out from a seizure.

When he awoke, he said, officers not only detained and arrested him but then pursued charges, even after they learned the incident may have stemmed from an epileptic seizure.

Ford doesn't remember much about the incident.

"You know, it was such a blur," he said. "I know I was on my way to see the Santa Rosa VA for a neurology appointment."

His lawyer has body cam video from that day to demonstrate what he says was at least a 15-officer effort to detain Ford after police confused him for being drunk.

"His ankles are tied to his wrists behind his back, and he’s face down, and these officers are kneeling on top of him and bending his arms, and he’s crying," attorney Izaak Schwaiger said.

But the lawsuit filed in federal court Monday isn’t about excessive use of force, Ford said. It's about what happened afterward.

"After I was released, they still walked me through the hospital, in handcuffs, to bring me to jail," Ford said.

After he spent a year in Afghanistan specializing in communications and building trust, Ford says he had his trust broken by Santa Rosa police, who brought him to the hospital with a black bag over his head and then to jail.

"I don’t hold the force against them," Ford said. "It was once the paramedics told them of my background, and that they had dealt with me before, that you know, 'Hey, he’s having a seizure!' I think that’s where the betrayal really, really sets in."

Santa Rosa police said they can’t comment on pending litigation, and calls to the city attorney’s office went unreturned.

The police chief told the Press Democrat officers come across people in a "variety of states," and they have to assess the situation. But Schwaiger says that doesn’t explain why the DA charged Ford with resisting arrest and assault of an officer before dismissing the case.

"And that's where we put a purple heart veteran," Schwaiger said. "To say, 'Thank you for your service.' By the way, please don’t sue us. And to make sure it doesn’t happen, we’re going to put you in jail and make you a convicted felon."

Schwaiger said if someone is convicted of resisting arrest, they can’t sue a municipality for what happens after.

Police could not answer questions about why charges were brought or about the accusation that 14 officers filed a report without mentioning Ford’s seizure.

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