New Year's Eve incident: Case against suspect settled

Attorney for accused vows civil rights lawsuit against police
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The man at the center of the New Year’s Eve incident at Bistro 33 has settled the criminal case. Now his attorney is vowing to file a civil lawsuit against the Rocklin Police officers for their alleged actions. Citrus Heights resident John Edward Banks Jr. was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse and resisting arrest during the party at the Mercedes Dealership restaurant on Granite Drive on Dec. 31, 2010. On Nov. 14, the day of Bank’s criminal trial, the charges against Banks were dropped. “The (District Attorney) dismissed all the charges against him if he admitted to disturbing the peace based on being under the influence of alcohol and being in an argument with his girlfriend,” Banks’ attorney David Weiner said. As part of the misdemeanor plea deal, Banks will be required to pay a $100 fine, attend alcohol awareness classes and will be on probation for one year. “We are going to proceed now with a civil rights action in federal court,” Weiner said. “Mr. Banks believes he was taken down, beaten and shocked (with a Taser) because of the color of his skin and not for anything that he did.” Weiner said the charges were dropped, in part, due to allegations that one of the four white Rocklin officers involved — a part time reserve officer — had previously been fired from the Placer County Probation Department on suspicion of racial discrimination and dishonesty. “Rocklin Police let him (the reserve officer) go after this incident, but before this trial,” Weiner said. Officials from the Placer County Probation Department as well as Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence declined to confirm that allegation other than to say the officer no longer works for either organization. State law prohibits the release of personnel information related to the employment of any employee. Lawrence did indicate that his department had not received any information about why the officer in question had left his probation assignment. Still, he is satisfied with the outcome of the court case. “I am pleased that the criminal matter involving Mr. Banks has concluded with his plea of guilty,” Lawrence said. Lawrence stands by the officers involved in this incident. According to the police report, the officers reportedly witnessed domestic violence between Banks and his girlfriend, Valaree Belle. Police Lt. Lon Milka told the Placer Herald on Jan. 5 that Banks went to the ground with his hands at his stomach while resisting the officers. In what Milka described as a “distraction technique,” an officer hit Banks with a baton approximately four times until they were able to place him in handcuffs. Immediately following the incident, a guest at the party posted a video on YouTube of the four officers arresting Banks. It received more than over 15,000 views. Shortly afterwards, an excessive force complaint was lodged against Rocklin Police by an unknown individual. Police have refused to release the findings of that report. Belle, the alleged victim in the case, was also arrested on New Year’s Eve. She was charged with obstructing an officer and battery on one of the arresting officers. On July 27, the charges against her were dropped. Both Banks and Belle have filed separate tort claims against the city claiming civil rights violations in the incident. Sacramento DJ Mike Reagan, who said he tried to break up the incident, was charged with obstruction, but the charge was later dropped. Despite admitting to disturbing the peace, Weiner said his client has a strong case against Rocklin. “All that gave the officer was a right to stop him and detain him for further investigation,” Weiner said. “It didn’t give the (officers) the right to throw him to the ground and beat him with a club while another officer was shocking him more than two times with a Taser. He wants his day in court.”