Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday title=
Mid-Incident: A still image from Deputy Anthony Muneton's dash-cam captures the scene moments after Chandler French crashed his truck in front of The Nugget in Summerland. | Credit: SBSO
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

(In June, following the death of George Floyd and amid renewed scrutiny over how and when law enforcement officers use physical force against civilians, the Independent filed a California Public Records Act request with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for information on serious use-of-force incidents dating back to 2010. This is the latest in a series of reports on those incidents. Read the other entries here.)

It was just after 2 a.m. on June 1, 2018, when Deputy Anthony Muneton, a first-year rookie with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, witnessed Chandler French, a 28-year-old former restaurant manager who’d fallen on hard times and bad habits, driving erratically on Highway 101 near Summerland. French had just finished a late-night bite at Jack in the Box and was headed back to the Carpinteria Motel 6, where he was living. He was high on methamphetamine.

As Muneton followed, French jerked onto the southbound off-ramp toward Lookout Park. Muneton turned on his lights and siren, but French didn’t stop. A short but wild pursuit ensued, with French barreling through Summerland’s surface streets, launching his Toyota Tacoma off intersection speed dips before finally losing control and crashing in front of The Nugget restaurant on Lillie Avenue. The entire incident was captured by Muneton’s dash-cam.

French spills out of the driver’s seat and staggers a few feet toward the building as Muneton exits his cruiser, draws his gun, and orders French to the ground. Even as French drops to the dirt and remains there, Muneton repeats his orders: “Get on the ground! Get on the ground, now!” The adrenaline in his voice is palpable.

French then tries standing but can’t straighten his upper body. He appears injured. Muneton later said he thought French had a broken leg. French falls to his hands and knees and half-crawls, half-drags himself up The Nugget’s wheelchair ramp. Muneton shouts at him to “Stop running!” Muneton has time to check the truck for other occupants before advancing on French and shoving him onto his stomach. A struggle begins, most of which is blocked from view by a railing. “Stop resisting!” Muneton continually yells, his voice rising. Muneton then punches him repeatedly in the head. “Let me go,” French pleads as he tries squirming away.

Muneton then grabs French in a chokehold, lifts him up, and slams him to the ground in a reverse hip throw. The scuffle stops immediately. “I’m done. Please, I won’t move,” French says. “That hurts so bad. I think my back is broken.” Another deputy arrives at the scene. French lies to him that a person named “Billy” had been driving his truck.

French had in fact sustained a broken back. He was transported by ambulance to Cottage Hospital and underwent surgery but suffered permanent debilitating effects. A doctor later said in a sworn statement that while French likely fractured his back by violently striking the speed dips and crashing, Muneton’s body slam almost certainly exacerbated the injury. French sued Muneton and the Sheriff’s Office for excessive force, demanding $120,000 to cover his medical expenses and unspecified damages for his past and future pain and suffering.

The department wanted to fight the case, taking it all the way to trial if necessary. They argued Muneton followed policy and did what he needed to do in a chaotic and dangerous situation. But this March, just as the COVID pandemic was putting the community on lockdown, the County Counsel’s Office offered French $950,000 to quietly go away. He took it. It was the most recent, among more than $8 million, in civil lawsuit settlements against the Sheriff’s Office in the last decade.

The decision, approved in a split vote by the Board of Supervisors, understandably rankled and confused department brass. Why did the county roll over, they wondered? What were the attorneys afraid of?

Why would the County Counsel be willing to pay so much to a suspect who has a long history of drug abuse, was kicked out of the Marines for drug use, has a record of minor criminal offenses, and was dangerously high on meth at the time of his arrest?

Statements by Undersheriff Sol Linver, the Number Two man in the Sheriff’s Office, may explain why Santa Barbara’s government leaders wished to avoid the potential embarrassment of a public trial and the possibility of an even bigger payout.

According to a 354-page transcript, the deposition of the undersheriff begins cordially enough, with Linver quipping to attorneys that he couldn’t know exactly what was going through the young deputy’s head that night. Linver doesn’t read minds, he says. “My wife does, but I don’t.”

Over the next 10 hours of questioning under oath, however, the congenial atmosphere of the law office devolves into a tense exchange between Linver and French’s attorney, Brad Gage. By the end, Linver — a respected 35-year veteran of the department who’d personally cleared Muneton of wrongdoing during an internal review — seemed to cast doubt on the lawfulness of Muneton’s actions and the ability of his agency to honestly investigate its own.

Linver admits that Muneton may have been able to use less forceful means to subdue an already hobbled French, including pepper spray or a Taser. Linver can’t make clear why Muneton didn’t, or why he didn’t wait the few seconds it took backup to arrive to put French into handcuffs more easily. Linver also has difficulty explaining why Muneton, who Gage suggests was adrenalized and angered by French’s attempts to flee, ordered French to get on the ground when he was already on the ground or why he told French to stop running when he wasn’t running.

Gage also takes issue with Muneton’s repeated admonitions to French to stop resisting, as even Muneton admitted in his incident report that French was never aggressively combative. Linver says French’s attempts to stand or crawl away could be considered resisting. Gage asks if the reverse hip throw is an approved method of takedown. Linver says he’s not familiar enough with the department’s training standards to know.

Gage zeros in on what he calls the “code of silence” that exists among some law enforcement agencies to shield officers accused of misconduct. Linver denies its practice in the Sheriff’s Office. Gage then asks Linver if he has ever lied or withheld information in his career. “I probably did tell some white lies,” Linver admits. “I might have done that to protect someone, yes.” Gage suggests to Linver that, during his internal review of the case, he shielded Muneton from discipline by whitewashing the description of the deputy’s actions and his potential violations of protocol, accusations Linver continually denies.

Gage gets Linver to acknowledge Sheriff’s officials are trained to sometimes lie in the course of their duties to achieve a desired outcome. Deputies may tell a barricaded suspect they will release a K-9 if they don’t surrender when there’s no dog present, Linver explains, or detectives may be less than truthful to suspects to elicit a confession. But Linver strongly denies that Muneton lied to French in their confrontation.

In the case’s final settlement agreement, the county and the Sheriff’s Office admitted no wrongdoing. “The civil litigation related to this case is now resolved,” Sheriff Bill Brown wrote in a letter to the Independent, “and there was no finding by a judge or jury that French’s injuries were caused by Deputy Muneton’s use of force. The County’s position is that the pursuit-related striking of speed dips at high speed and the vehicle accident caused French’s injuries.”

Though the Sheriff’s Office remains convinced that Muneton behaved properly, the Board of Supervisors also reasoned that the deputy’s use of force would not be as easily accepted by a jury. What exactly was it about the case that spooked supervisors? It’s an answer we’ll never know since the matter ended in a closed board meeting, out of view and out of court.

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ChillinGrillin Nov 26, 2020 11:53 AM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

After seeing this article on here and the Independent, I decided this is the last straw. I am devoting much of my considerable spare time to investigating the SBSO and the incompetence of their leadership and bringing it to the attention of relevant authorities. They cost taxpayers with their ineptitude and it is hardly a secret that the County Jail is a cesspool that employs sex predators and is easy to slip drugs and weapons into. Days are numbered for Sheriff Bill and his posse of fat old white men too lazy to get out of their cars and do real policing.

love my bubble Nov 26, 2020 10:38 AM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

Roger was just telling his own story. No resist of arrest but still pummeled by an officer, thus the retaliation punch - and not in this town.
I appreciate Rogers stories of “the other side” He gives me a little insight to a world I have not been a part of,, from his personal experiences and a perspective of what was going on with him at that time in his life, before he got sober. I have read his condemnations of those doing wrong, and of those risking the lives of others. He is a real person that went down a very different road and was able to get off of it and change directions
Thanks Roger for helping me humanize many of the addicts that are literally lost in their own worlds.

ChillinGrillin Nov 25, 2020 09:32 PM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

Another tale of valor and competence from our local Sheriff. This reads like the script of a Reno 911 episode. Sheriff Bill Brown and his band of incompetent trigger-happy morons NEED TO GO. They protect their own and endanger the public and it is only getting worse since I stopped working in law enforcement. Vote. Bill. Out.

Alexblue Nov 27, 2020 11:17 AM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

Coastwatch, it's not one or the other. It's not a good guy bad guy choice. It's asking if the police officer used the appropriate level of force while arresting someone.

I don't get the whole thing where people believe that the fact that someone is breaking a law justifies brutalizing them. Cops need to be able to defend themselves, sounds like in this situation the cop could easily have used less risky tactics and or waited for back up.

a-1606410968 Nov 26, 2020 09:16 AM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

Apparently, Roger and these other commenters are completely unaware of the realities of methamphetamine abuse and the extremely serious problems it has caused, and continues to cause, in our society. They seem to think its fine for intoxicated methamphetamine users to act in any way they see fit, up to and including committing serious crimes, including initiating high-speed pursuits with the police that endangered life and property and could have killed someone, resisting arrest, and suing the city after they are injured due to their own criminal actions! What world do these people live in where this is OK??? It was your family member that was injured by this idiot on methamphetamine, I have a feeling Roger and those who support him would feel quite differently.

Roger Nov 25, 2020 04:07 PM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

I never sued them but fought back it was mutual combat and it never happened here not to me I was always treated with respect here. They had to chase me down acouple times and hog tie me once but I never got thumped by cops here and I have been arrested by the SO and city PD THE LAST TIME WAS IN 1999...I don't drink no more.

Roger Nov 26, 2020 10:25 AM
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Files: A Body Slam, a Broken Back, and a $950,000 Payday

OH WTF? He clobbered me first I gave up like a gentleman and he slammed my face on the hood of the car! My Uncle had been Chief of that department and had passed a few years earlier..That rookie jackass was abusive he found himself in deep shit after beating the crap out of me and DAMNED RIGHT I HIT HIM BACK..DOING HIS DUTY...Beating up a drunk kid putting me in the ER..Damned right I hit him back All charges dropped.

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