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Lawsuit filed against city on behalf of woman attacked by police K-9


Tatyana Hargrove looks down toward the table as attorney Neil Gehlawat of Chain Cohn Stiles speaks during an August press conference held regarding her arrest. 

A lawsuit was filed Friday against the City of Bakersfield alleging excessive force and civil rights violations in the arrest of a young woman who police mistook for a much larger machete-wielding man.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court's Eastern District of California, seeks compensatory and punitive damages, among other things, alleging that police falsely arrested Tatyana Hargrove. One of the officers released a K-9 on her during the June 18 incident. 

"The officers claimed they mistook the 5 foot 2 inch Hargrove for a 30-year-old, 5 foot 10 inch black male, who was reported to have been brandishing a machete at the nearby Grocery Outlet earlier that day," the lawsuit states.

Hargrove was 19 at the time.

City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said the city has not been served with the suit and she hasn't seen it. 

"As with all litigation," she said, "we will vigorously defend the city, and in all likelihood the matter will be sent to (Fresno-based attorneys) Marderosian & Cohen for legal representation."

Hargrove had faced two counts of resisting arrest, one count of willfully interfering with a police K-9, and two counts of assault on a peace officer in connection with her arrest. All charges were later dismissed.

Attorneys with Chain Cohn Stiles and the Law Office of Thomas C. Seabaugh, which represent Hargrove, have said the case is not just about obtaining justice for Hargrove, but holding police accountable for their actions and bringing about better training for officers.

The incident occurred when Hargrove, riding her bicycle home, was stopped by by Officers Christopher Moore and G. Vasquez, according to the complaint. Moore drew his handgun and pointed it at Hargrove as he questioned her.

The officer asked if she'd been at the Grocery Outlet, then demanded she hand over her backpack, the lawsuit states. 

"She asked Officer Moore if he had a warrant, and in response the officers violently retaliated," the lawsuit states.

Vasquez grabbed her off the bike, punched her in the face and threw her down, according to the lawsuit. Then Moore, "for no reason," released his K-9, Hamer, who bit Hargrove's leg as she screamed for help. 

Hargrove was arrested and kept in jail overnight before her parents bailed her out. 

Moore's written account of events differs in several respects. He wrote in his report the description he received of the suspect was "black male, white shirt, carrying a pink backpack." He said he thought Hargrove was the male suspect.

A detailed description of the suspect that included height, weight and that the suspect was bald didn't come until about an hour after Hargrove was contacted.

Hargrove was uncooperative from the beginning, Moore wrote, and when Vasquez attempted to detain her she interlaced her fingers behind her head while straddling the bicycle.

Vasquez grabbed her hands, lost his footing and fell to the ground, according to Moore's report. Hargrove landed on top of him. The K-9 was then deployed.

Hargrove soon went public with her story. A video regarding her side of the incident was posted on the Bakersfield NAACP's Facebook page and racked up more than 8 million views. 

The NAACP said Hargrove was targeted for her race. BPD said it was a case of mistaken identity. Police Chief Lyle Martin later called Hargrove's parents to apologize and tell them his department will strive to do better.

On Aug. 2, District Attorney Lisa Green dismissed charges against Hargrove, noting both sides handled the encounter poorly. 

Jason Kotowski can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow him on Twitter: @tbcbreakingnews.

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