Prosecuting Extrajudicial Force

The truth matters — especially when people are harmed by the very institutions charged with protecting society. The truth leads to closure, reform, and, ultimately, justice. Our lawyers advocate for those who experience excessive, unlawful force or misconduct at the hands of law enforcement but who may otherwise be ignored or dismissed.

Bobbie Woods is a disabled Vietnam War veteran living in Hayward, California, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. In the early morning hours of a spring day in 2018, a SWAT team descended on Mr. Woods’s home. Officers entered the home pursuant to a warrant directed at the minor child of Mr. Woods’s caretaker. During the search, police pointed their firearms at Mr. Woods and ordered him outside where he was held for nearly 45 minutes, disregarding his disability and difficulty with movement. Once outside, the cold weather quickly aggravated his muscular dystrophy, causing him considerable pain.

In 2019, Mr. Woods filed suit against the City of Hayward and the Hayward Police Department, alleging that he was unreasonably seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and that the police demonstrated deliberate indifference to his disability. Through discovery and in defeating summary judgment, a team of Latham lawyers managed to present our client’s full experience of the traumatic events. We ultimately won Mr. Woods a significant settlement as well as an informal apology from the city.

“Beyond securing just compensation for Mr. Woods, we are particularly proud to have obtained a settlement that involved the city making a statement to Mr. Woods related to the incident — one that made him feel heard and seen after an event that left him traumatized,” said Francis Acott, the Latham associate who served as lead counsel on behalf of Mr. Woods.

This year we also received a successful result in a matter concerning an inmate in a New York prison who was injured in a case of unlawful force at the hands of prison guards.

Our client, Jeffrey Culbreath, was eating in a crowded mess hall when a minor disturbance broke out. It was quickly quelled by guards, and the prisoners went back to their meal. Suddenly, guards unleashed an enormous cloud of chemical agents into the mess hall. The contents landed directly on Mr. Culbreath, and he suffered painful injuries to his skin, eyes, and lungs. A stampede ensued, trampling Mr. Culbreath and others in the chaos.

“Beyond securing just compensation for our client, we are particularly proud to have obtained a settlement that involved the city making a statement related to the incident — one that made our client feel heard and seen after an event that left him traumatized.”

Francis Acott, associate, San Francisco

A New York-based team progressed the litigation over several years until the district court ordered a trial with a month’s notice. Although the short notice was especially challenging given the difficulty communicating with our incarcerated client and witnesses, our team moved forward at lightning speed with a strong and compelling case that ultimately led the Department of Corrections to agree to an unprecedented monetary settlement.

“Nothing justifies the type of cruel and indiscriminate violence unleashed on Mr. Culbreath and the other prisoners that day. We are proud to have secured a measure of justice for Mr. Culbreath, a result that validates his civil and human rights and stands up for the rule of law in New York,” said Kevin McDonough, the lead partner in this matter.