Sacramento, CA — A California man is suing the city of Citrus Heights and several of its police officers for the horrific injuries he sustained when police forced him onto the ground of a restaurant parking lot when the temperature was more than 100 degrees outside.
The pavement was estimated to have been around 170 degrees, causing James Bradford Nelson III's flesh to melt and resulting in third-degree burns on his face, torso, legs, and buttocks.
Nelson suffers from schizophrenia and has been in and out of jail since he was a juvenile. While defense attorneys will likely bring up his criminal past as being responsible for the police officers’ use of force, Nelson's family says his incarcerations have followed a pattern of mental instability, leading to criminal behavior, and then jail time. But, arguably, no human should receive life-threatening burns after a run-in with police.
Police officers were called to the KFC when Nelson was behaving erratically. The shirtless man then fled the restaurant but was taken to the ground, with his bare skin being exposed to the scorching roadway.
Nelson's mother and stepfather, Tarsha and Barry Benigno, told the Sacremento Bee that they believe the officers were "poorly trained," and that the injuries Nelson sustained have taken an emotional toll on both him and his family.
Citrus Heights police chief Ronald Lawrence said the case will be tried in court, adding that it is, “something that will involve the judicial system, and will not be resolved in the court of public opinion.” But it will be the opinion of the jury and not the chief which will matter when restitution must be decided.
The lawsuit contends, “During this time on the ground Nelson was screaming and yelling in excruciating pain,” and adds, “the officers forced his head down onto the hot pavement, leaning onto it with such force that Nelson could not move it for relief, exposing the right side of his face and neck to the scorching heat of the concrete.”
This is not the first time police have been accused of burning someone in custody. In 2016, an Arizona man, Marc LeBeau, was held on the pavement for two minutes while an Arizona DPS officer laid on top of him, supposedly struggling to place the man in handcuffs.
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LeBeau screamed for mercy, begging the officer to take him to the sidewalk. In the end, LeBeau told TFTP in an exclusive that he also suffered third-degree burns over much of his body, including his feet, as he was not wearing shoes at the time.
Predictably, those who can find no fault with law enforcement tactics stood by their officer and stated he was simply following police protocol. LeBeau told TFTP he was denied his request to put on his flip-flops in the blazing Arizona summer heat and was forced to stand barefoot on the ground. This was the same heat that melted trashcans.
He said he began dancing to keep his feet from burning, an action unscrupulous cop supporters said indicated he was obviously on drugs. But a drug test later showed he was not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs at the time he was stopped for speeding. Below, LeBeau documented his injuries in a YouTube video:
LeBeau went back to the scene of the crime the day after and quite humbly, one could say, explained how hot it was on the day he was assaulted. He did so by cooking a pork chop on the very spot where he was burned.
Instances like Nelson’s and LeBeau’s highlight one of many possible scenarios. Either the police know how hot the pavement is in over 100-degree heat, and they are trying to punish the suspects, or they are simply ignorant about the possibility that their actions could result in life-threatening injuries.
Nelson's burns were so horrific that he suffered injuries to his liver and his kidneys and required several surgeries. His current hospital bill is approaching $2 million and he is suing for damages both to his body and his state of mind, as well as punitive damages against the officers. Nelson’s lawyers are asking for $26 million in compensation. His injuries will stay with him for the rest of his life and were completely avoidable in the eyes of many who are following the case.