LOS ANGELES — A woman who was punched in the face by a deputy as she held her baby sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, alleging excessive force and wrongful arrest.
Yeayo Russell filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the department and the deputies involved in the July 2022 traffic stop in Palmdale, northeast of Los Angeles. The department released body camera video this month.
“This case is about more than just punches,” said Jamon Hicks, one of Russell’s attorneys. “It is about the way the deputies treated this mother.”
The sheriff’s department did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Russell was a passenger in a car that was stopped for driving at night without headlights. The deputies smelled alcohol and saw three babies who weren’t in car seats and were instead being held, authorities said.
The male driver was arrested on suspicion of driving on a suspended license, driving under the influence of alcohol and child endangerment. Russell and three other women in the car were held on suspicion of child endangerment.
The edited video released by Sheriff Robert Luna shows Russell’s child being taken from her as she shrieks, then a second woman sitting cross-legged on the ground, holding another baby.
Deputies try to persuade Russell to give them the child, and she responds, “You’ll have to shoot me dead before you take my baby,” the video shows. As she resists, a deputy punches her several times in the face, and she is handcuffed.
Russell spent four days in jail, separated from her weeks-old infant, causing her distress, Hicks said.
“Hours and hours she had no idea where her child was. Hours and hours she had no idea if her child was OK,” he said.
Russell is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against the 10 deputies involved in her arrest and jailing.
The deputy who punched Russell was taken off field duty, Luna said when he released the video July 13. The sheriff said that he found the punching “completely unacceptable” and that he had sent the case to the county district attorney’s office, which will decide whether to charge the deputy. He said he also alerted the FBI.
Luna, a former Long Beach police chief, took over the department in December after defeating incumbent Alex Villanueva and vowed to overhaul the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
“It’s unfortunate that it took a year for this video to even come out. This is something that the public should have seen right away. And the fact that it took a year, and again credit Sheriff Luna for exposing it, shows the mentality of the county sheriffs in that area,” Hicks said.
Federal monitors continue to oversee reforms that the department agreed to for the Palmdale and Lancaster stations, which are among the busiest in the county.
In 2015, the sheriff’s department settled federal allegations that deputies in those stations had engaged in excessive use of force and racially biased policing that included disproportionately stopping or searching Black and Latino people.