Kelly Medora, a petite preschool teacher who weighed about 118 pounds, went out with a friend in North Beach one Saturday night in 2005 for some fun.
Instead, San Francisco police officer Christopher Damonte, who weighed about 250 pounds, arrested her for jaywalking, twisted her arm behind her back and broke it with an audible crack.
Although Damonte and the city denied wrongdoing, the city recently mailed Medora a check for $235,000, the largest amount ever to settle a lawsuit claiming San Francisco police used excessive force not involving a weapon.
The Office of Citizen Complaints, meanwhile, has found that Damonte used excessive force in the incident and that another officer failed to investigate Medora’s complaint. Damonte faces a disciplinary hearing at the Police Commission and potential punishment including dismissal.
Damonte, 41, a six-year veteran of the department, has been the subject of other misconduct complaints, according to city sources. He was admonished in 2003 for inappropriately threatening to arrest a woman without authority, and he is among more than 18 officers disciplined for their role in the controversial 2005 Bayview Police Station videos, which Mayor Gavin Newsom denounced as racist, sexist and homophobic.
Damonte declined to comment. Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the officers in the Medora case did nothing wrong, and the city settled only to avoid a potentially more costly jury verdict.
Eileen Burke, Medora’s lawyer, said the case showed police failed to properly investigate misconduct claims.
In a 2006 series, The Chronicle reported that the Police Department had a history of failing to control officers who repeatedly resorted to force. Chief Heather Fong said at the time that she was developing better ways to identify problem officers. “We’ve made a lot of progress,” said Sgt. Neville Gittens, department spokesman.
The North Beach arm-breaking incident highlights the kind of police misconduct records that have become secret under a recent state Supreme Court ruling known as the Copley case. Gittens cited the ruling in saying the department would have no comment on the Medora incident.
Details of the incident became public because Medora filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Damonte of intentionally using excessive force. In defending the suit, the city was required to make public some evidence.
According to court records, the evening of Jan. 23, 2005, began serenely for Medora, 27, a teacher at the Helen Diller Family Preschool. After dinner in her Russian Hill apartment, she and a friend walked down to a club on Broadway, where each had two single-shot vodka and soda drinks, according to testimony.
They left at about midnight and walked west on Broadway, which was crowded with revelers. Her friend stepped from the sidewalk between two parked cars to hail a cab. Medora stepped off the curb behind her. There was no oncoming traffic.
Seconds later, Damonte approached. From this point on, the officers’ and teacher’s accounts diverge.
Robert Bonta, the deputy city attorney representing the police, said in court records that Medora and her friend had endangered themselves and others by walking into Broadway. He said Damonte and another officer asked them to get out of the street and said they would be cited.
Medora walked away. When Damonte caught up to her, he said, she refused to give him her driver’s license. When police detained her, she allegedly screamed, struggled and struck an officer. The city later said she was drunk, but the officers didn’t cite her for that.
According to Medora’s account, Damonte seemed “irate” and “angry” from the start.
“I was fearful just of his demeanor,” she testified. “He was definitely very threatening with the questions he was asking and his body language and his facial expression, the tone of voice he was using.”
Damonte grabbed her friend’s arm, held it up by her face and demanded she tell him her age, Medora said. Damonte said he would cite her, but didn’t say why.
Medora saw the name “R. Fitzpatrick” on Damonte’s jacket – he had borrowed it from another officer – and asked if that was his name. This seemed to set him off, she said. He said yes and demanded why she wanted to know.
“I don’t believe you’re treating my friend appropriately,” she replied, court records show. “You haven’t told us what we’re being cited for. Please let go of her arm.”
Medora said Damonte started to scream at her. Fearful, she said she turned and walked up to another officer and complained about Damonte.
By her account, Damonte then demanded Medora’s driver’s license. Medora said she’d give him her license if he told her what she did.
Instead, Damonte said “detain her,” by this account, and he and two other officers surrounded her. She said she did not resist them, but merely clutched her purse. Then Damonte grabbed her right arm.
“It all happened very quick,” she testified. “Like he physically took my arm and twisted it up back by my neck to a point where I was completely immobilized. And I said ‘ow, ow.’ And he pulled even harder, and he snapped it.”
There was an audible “pop,” according to a police report.
The city’s lawyer said in court papers that Damonte used an approved method of holding her arm, but she struggled. Then “in an effort to escape,” she squatted down and “broke her own arm.”
Medora cried out in pain. Police called an ambulance and cited her for jaywalking.
At Kaiser Hospital, she was treated for a spiral fracture to her right humerus. Medical records state she was not intoxicated.
Medora said she phoned police from Kaiser to file a misconduct complaint, but no one responded.
Instead, an officer delivered a new citation for resisting, delaying and assaulting an officer. The charges were later dismissed.
In her suit, Medora said Damonte had used excessive force, and that another officer, then-Sgt. Timothy Oberzeir, failed to investigate the incident. Oberzeir did not respond to a call seeking comment.
After U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte ruled there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial, the city settled.
Laporte ruled that a jury could find that Damonte “intended to cause her extreme pain and distress by breaking her arm.” There was even a question of whether the officers had cause to arrest Medora for jaywalking, the judge ruled.
Police Commission staff refused The Chronicle’s request for a copy of any disciplinary charges pending against Damonte. Such records used to be public, but in an August 2006 decision urged by police groups, the state Supreme Court ruled them confidential personnel files.
Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill last year to make police misconduct findings public, but the measure failed after police officers’ groups lobbied against it.
As a result, while Californians can readily learn about sustained disciplinary actions concerning doctors, lawyers and judges, similar information about police officers is secret, said Terry Francke, a First Amendment lawyer with Californians Aware, a nonprofit group that advocates open government.
Meanwhile, Damonte has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city, saying Fong unfairly disciplined him for his part in the Bayview police videos. His suit is similar to a pending case brought by 18 other officers disciplined in the video case. The city denies the claims.
E-mail Seth Rosenfeld at email@example.com.