Lawsuit filed against West Valley Police Department alleges constitutional violations
Nonnie Masaniai Pea, mother of Atonio Sivatia, is suing the West Valley City Police Department after her son was left permanently disabled while in police custody.
The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday afternoon alleges that police officers used excessive force when they tased and detained Sivatia after he walked away from an officer last December on Redwood Road in Salt Lake County.
It lists Officers Ammon Fox, James Williams, Nick Green and Chad Faubion as the defendants alongside the police department.
Once detained, the lawsuit alleges Sivatia was then told by Fox to lie on the dark road, and not to move. It says officers didn’t fully block or signal to drivers Sivatia’s presence on the busy road; nor did they move him out of the way.
Shortly after, he was run over by a car and suffered extensive brain damage.
Robert Sykes, the family’s attorney, said those officers violated his constitutional rights and the police department’s own policy on weapon use.
He pointed to the departments’ code that states the use of a taser is unreasonable if “mere flight” from an officer is the only cause without any other reasonable circumstances.
“The reasonableness of this force is not in question,” Sykes said. “It was totally unreasonable to use force like this for someone to lie down in a heavily traveled lane of traffic. That's the force — totally unreasonable and unconstitutional.”
Sykes said the other officer on scene was also responsible for not ensuring Sivatia’s safety. He said the police department failed at their job that day.
“This was totally avoidable had the police done what they should have done, had they followed their own rules and they followed the rules of the court,” he said. “[This] never would have happened.”
Pea, who affectionately calls her son “OJ”, said with a trembling lip at the press conference that her son was a loving uncle who often babysat his sister’s kids and was a big loving guy. She described him as a respectful son who often went to church.
But now she doesn’t recognize him.
“He's not the same. He’s not the same OJ,” she said. “He’s not. When he sees me sometimes I think he doesn't know I'm his mom. He's like a 6-year-old right now. Diaper changes … feedings.”
She said through sobs she couldn’t bring herself to pull the plug when the doctor told her he’d likely live in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.
“I'll do anything for my son,” she said. “I'm so tired but as a mother, this is what we do. We work full time. We do anything for our kids. I am here for my son.”
A representative of the West Valley Police Department emailed a statement to KUER saying they are aware of the lawsuit and are investigating the incident.
“The case referenced in the lawsuit is under investigation by Protocol Team 1, which is led by the Salt Lake City Police Department,” the email read. “In addition, this case, as is standard for all uses of force in our department, will undergo an internal review. We don’t draw any conclusion about the case until all the facts are known and the investigation is complete.”