10th Circuit: Bernalillo County deputies must face trial on excessive force claims

In March 2013, the Maresca family — wife, husband, and three children — were returning from a hiking excursion in their red 2004 Ford-150 pickup truck when two Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies pulled their vehicle over.

The Marescas had not violated any traffic law, but Deputy J. Fuentes had mis-typed their vehicle’s license plate number into the NCIC crime database, causing her to think that their vehicle was stolen. Deputy Fuentes failed to notice that the stolen vehicle was reported to be a four-door Chevrolet Sedan with expired plates, and thus completely different from the Maresca’s pickup truck.

Deputy Fuentes and another officer, Deputy Grundhoffer, ordered the Maresca family members out of the vehicle at gunpoint and ordered them to lie down on the highway. The Marescas allege that sheriff’s deputies pointed guns at their heads, including the children, while they were lying down (the deputies deny that they pointed their loaded weapons at them). The Marescas sued, and the district court granted summary judgment in the defendants’ favor.

In Maresca v. County of Bernalillo, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Judge David Ebel’s opinion explains that Deputy Fuentes had no possible ground for thinking the vehicle was stolen, and thus summary judgment should be granted against her on the wrongful arrest claim, with a remand for a trial on damages. The order granting qualified immunity to Deputy Grundhoffer was affirmed, because he reasonably relied on Deputy Fuentes’ report that the vehicle might be stolen. The excessive force claims were remanded for trial, because there was conflicting evidence about whether the deputies pointed their guns at the Marescas although they were fully compliant with the deputies’ commands.

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