City settles excessive force lawsuit by Reno mom for $50,000

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Lynette Ford is suing police after this interaction, claiming they used excessive force and falsified evidence to use in her arrest. The charges against her were ultimately dropped. Reno Gazette Journal

The Reno City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to pay $50,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit filed by a Reno mom who alleged police roughed her up and booked her on phony charges in February 2018.

The lawsuit was filed by Lynette Ford, who was arrested after her teenage son called 911 fearing his mother had been possessed by a demon.

The interaction between Ford and the four Reno police officers who responded to her son’s call was captured by a surveillance camera outside her apartment. The footage shows a Reno police officer violently throwing Ford against the hallway wall while handcuffing her in front of her son.

The brief incident, during which police did little investigating other than talking to the teenager, ended in Ford’s arrest on charges of child abuse — charges that were ultimately dropped in their entirety.

The lawsuit alleges that police falsified evidence to support Ford’s arrest, which resulted in a no-contact order that prevented Ford from seeing her son for nearly two months.

Before the city council voted to pay the settlement, Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus asked for more of a discussion on the actions of the four police officers named in the lawsuit: Michael Frady, Anthony Sotelo, Scott Johnson and Justin Schneider.

Although the council discussed the lawsuit privately with its lawyer, little was made public in the short staff report describing the settlement.

“This is a tiny little report, maybe 750 words for a settlement of civil rights violations,” Brekhus said.

“When we settle we also need an illumination of them and what they did,” she said of the four officers.

Neither council members nor the Reno City Attorney’s Office responded to Brekhus’s request.

The night Ford was arrested, her 13-year-old son had called police in a panic after he found his mom on the floor of her room calling for help. The lawsuit said she was struggling with the bright blue contacts she wears, one of which had slipped off of her eye. 

When the teenager saw his mom looking up to him with a dark brown eye, he “jumped to the wrongheaded conclusion that his mother had been possessed,” the lawsuit said.

He ran out of the apartment to call police, who found him locked out of the apartment and shivering in the cold night wearing only a t-shirt and pants.

Ford said she had left the apartment to find her son and the door had accidentally locked behind her. 

The police report said Ford “displayed signs of being grossly intoxicated, swaying back and forward and unsteady on her feet.” The report also says she became “agitated and profane toward officers.”

The video, which has no sound, shows Ford talking with the officers for less than 30 seconds before they move to handcuff her and then throw her into the wall. Ford’s lawyer said police had no evidence she was intoxicated.

“The officers closed their eyes to facts that would help clarify the circumstances on the night in question,” the lawsuit said. 

“There was no crime — only a worried teenager absorbed with horror movies who wrongly assumed his mother had been possessed.”

Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at adamon@rgj.com or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.

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