AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the wrong place at the wrong time, 52-year-old Pete Hernandez was tackled by police in South Austin June, 7, 2012. Hernandez has now been awarded $877,000 in a lawsuit after police wrongly restrained him for walking past an SUV reported stolen in a Walmart parking lot.
His attorney Robert Ranco said, “He did not do anything more than walk past the vehicle that had been stolen. He did not touch it, he did not move towards it, he just walked past it.”
The whole incident was captured on Austin police dash car cameras, which show officers drawing guns at Hernandez who walked next to the vehicle. He was then forced onto the ground with his face down, while his roommate tried to explain to police they had the wrong guy.
“He has heart trouble. You don’t have to throw him to the ground,” yells the roommate in the video.
Ranco said there was a mediation process with the city when the suit was filed. During that process, Hernandez hoped to reach an agreement to pay for his medical expenses and anguish, but that did not happen according to Ranco.
“It was not even close,” said Ranco. “And we came into this with reasonable desires and expectations. His medical expenses were $330,000. They never came close to that.” At the time of the incident, Hernandez reportedly did not have insurance costing him a hefty amount in medical bills.
The Austin city manager can sign off on any city settlements or expenses less than $58,000. Anything above that amount requires city council approval.
Instead of paying Hernandez, Ranco said the city and the police department tried to justify the officers actions by arguing Hernandez did not immediately comply with their order to get on the ground and was tackled because of it. A notion he believes the jury rejected, feeling Hernandez should not have been expected to react right away given his innocence and confusion as to what was happening. Hernandez has undergone back surgery and has recovered “about 75 percent” according to Ranco.
While Hernandez wasn’t seeking a specific dollar amount in the lawsuit, the amount paid to him included medical expenses, physical pain, suffering, and mental anguish.
Verdict: Amount awarded to Hernandez
- $164,000: Medical expenses for past treatment
- $13,000: Medical expenses for future treatment
- $300,000: Past physical pain and suffering
- $150,000: Future pain and suffering
- $30,000: Physical impairment in the past
- $220,000: Future physical impairment
- Total: $877,000
The defendants were Jesus Sanchez, John Sikoski, and Robert Escamilla. The jury ruled Sanchez violated Hernandez’s Fourth Amendment right, which protects citizens from excessive force.