Nipomo man claims sheriff's deputy beat him

Nipomo man files complaint that he was beaten and shocked with a Taser; deputy is no longer with office

nwilson@thetribunenews.comAugust 1, 2012 

UPDATE 10:29 a.m. Thursday: The deputy accused of using excessive force by a Nipomo man last month was hired by the Sheriff's Office less than a year ago, according to spokesman Tony Cipolla.

Deputy Steven Hurl was hired Nov. 1, 2011, and his “day of separation” from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office was July 25, said Cipolla, who said he couldn't comment on whether Hurl was fired.

Original story: Jesus Raul Ruiz, 28, had just spent a pleasant afternoon listening to mariachi music and dancing at a Nipomo church for his grandmother’s 80th birthday.

By early evening July 15, he was being shocked with a Taser, elbowed and pummeled with a club by a sheriff’s deputy, Ruiz claims.

The deputy, Steven Hurl, is “no longer an employee of the Sheriff’s Office,” said sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla on Wednesday.

Citing personnel confidentiality, the office would not say whether Hurl is permanently terminated from his position. Cipolla is calling his job status a “separation” from the office.

“We’re restricted by law about what we can and can’t say,” Cipolla said. “That can open us up to litigation and it could be costly to the county.”

Ruiz, a Nipomo resident, said he was driving home from the party about 6:30 p.m. with his girlfriend, Ashley Rodriguez, 25, and her 7-year-old son on Vintage Street near Thompson Avenue.

Ruiz admits he was driving over the speed limit (his attorney, William Gamble, said he was traveling about 40 mph in a 25 mph zone) when he passed the deputy, who was driving in the opposite direction.

Ruiz said he pulled into a friend’s driveway, and his girlfriend went into the home with her son. Then the deputy drove up beside Ruiz and ordered him to keep his hands in the air and turn his back as the deputy pointed a gun at him, Ruiz said.

“He was yelling at me, and I kept on asking, ‘Why are you yelling?’ ” Ruiz said. “I wanted to know the situation, and he called for backup, and I said, ‘Why are you calling for backup?’ ”

At one point, Ruiz said, he also asked the deputy — whom he described as white in his 20s with blond hair and blue eyes — whether he was racially profiling Ruiz, who is Hispanic.

Ruiz said the deputy shocked him with a Taser from about 15 feet away, rendering him “frozen,” then clubbed him in his thigh and buttocks. Ruiz said the deputy elbowed him as well, striking him about six times in all, before shocking him with the Taser a second time in the side.

Ruiz’s girlfriend, Rodriguez, then came out of the house and told the deputy he was hurting her boyfriend, she said, as a crowd from the neighborhood gathered.

Ruiz was detained, and Rodriguez and Ruiz’s brother, 22-year-old Edgar Gutierrez, were handcuffed as well, though they weren’t arrested.

“Another officer came and had a knee in my back area,” Rodriguez said. “I kept on telling him to get off.”

Ruiz was detained on suspicion of resisting arrest, but he was never charged with a crime in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Ruiz and Rodriguez said they don’t know why the deputy reacted the way he did.

Gamble said he doesn’t understand why the situation escalated either. His client is considering a lawsuit, he said.

“I have no hesitation in filing a civil-rights violation,” Gamble said. “I can’t understand why he’d beat him with a billy club when he was lying on the ground. (Ruiz) said he wasn’t fighting with him.”

Ruiz said he hasn’t been able to work, spending sleepless nights thinking about the incident. He had been helping his mother with her house-cleaning business and said he’s lost some mobility in his left elbow and wrist in addition to suffering bruises on his body.

“I’m confused about what happened, and a lot of people have asked me about it and it’s hard to explain,” Ruiz said. “I’ve always had good relations with sheriff’s deputies around here, and I’ll say ‘Hi’ if I see them around. I just don’t understand how this happened.”

Ruiz filed a complaint, and the sheriff’s professional standards unit is investigating the incident, Cipolla said.

Hurl could not be reached for comment.

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