Scared of law enforcement, Richard Bernier III decided to drive toward his Fresno home on a dark November night, instead of stopping for officers pursuing him.
Once he got near his home, he got out of car and jogged toward it. But before he could make it to the front door, a patrol car drove onto a lawn and ran over his left leg, breaking his foot, according to Bernier’s civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fresno.
Writhe in pain, Bernier was unable to stand up, but law enforcement officers still handcuffed his hands behind his back. Then, while sprawled on the ground, the lawsuit says, the officers “took out their batons and began to beat him on his head, face and body.”
Fresno attorney Kevin G. Little this week sued the Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol on behalf of Bernier, accusing them of excessive force, battery and negligence.
A warrant for Bernier’s arrest, however, says he put the public at risk by speeding during the police pursuit, running red lights and stop signs before striking a mail box and fleeing.
Little also has sued on behalf of Bernier’s wife, Nadezhda Ustinenkov.Little contends the incident has harmed his clients’ marriage, impacted their children, and turned Ustinenkov into Bernier’s caretaker.
More importantly, Little says in the lawsuit Bernier was notified in early December the Fresno County District Office would not charge him. But once Little sent a letter to the Sheriff’s Office in late December, asking the agency to preserve the evidence, prosecutors later “reconsidered” their decision and filed charges against Bernier, the lawsuit says.
The incident happened during the early hours of Nov. 8, 2017, in a neighborhood near Marks and Barstow in northwest Fresno.
CHP spokesman Axel Reyes said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti referred questions to County Counsel.
Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said he also could not comment on Bernier’s complaint because of pending litigation and Bernier’s pending criminal case.
But in general, the District Attorney’s Office files charges based on evidence and circumstances from a complete investigation, he said. “We do not make filing decisions on an individual based upon that individual’s claim of police misconduct,” Wright said.
The warrant for Bernier’s arrest tells a different story from what’s alleged in the lawsuit.
Sheriff detective Sergio Garcia’s affidavit in support of the warrant does not mention law enforcement beating Bernier or breaking his foot.
Instead the affidavit says Bernier tried to climb a fence, but two sheriff’s deputies grabbed him before he could escape. The two deputies “used force, after verbal commands failed, in order to eventually place Richard into custody,” the affidavit says.
Bernier admitted he was drunk, the affidavit says, and was eventually charged with felony evading police and misdemeanor charges of hit and run, drunken driving and resisting arrest.