A Chico woman arrested in September 2022 by Oroville police — who was then driven to a Butte County dump at midnight and left until she was struck by a passing car as she tried to walk home — has settled her lawsuit against the city for a $3 million payment, her attorney said Monday.
Dana Marie James, 54, sued the city of Oroville in federal court last year following the incident, which left her hospitalized with life-threatening injuries for 35 days as a result of the hit and run. Court records say the ordeal forced her to endure several surgeries.
Her Auburn attorney, Robert Chalfant, filed the lawsuit six months after the incident and said Monday that the city had agreed to settle the case for $3 million.
“Under the 14th Amendment’s ‘State Created Danger’ doctrine, a law enforcement officer can’t put a person they encountered in a more dangerous position than the one they found them in,” Chalfant wrote in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “While we are happy to have reached a settlement in this case, I hope the number reached serves as a warning to all law enforcement agencies and officers that the practice of ‘dumping’ individuals in remote areas is one that needs to immediately end.
“Ms. James is an incredibly strong woman, and it is a miracle that she survived this ordeal. There is still a long road of recovery ahead.”
Oroville City Administrator Brian Ring declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The civil rights lawsuit Chalfant filed accused city officials of a “state-created danger,” deliberate indifference and negligence for their actions on Sept. 1, 2022.
A dip in a homeowner’s pool
The incident began during a heat wave when a Butte County sheriff’s deputy arrested James for allegedly trespassing by taking a swim in a homeowner’s pool, the suit says.
The deputy “observed that Ms. James was incoherent, had an altered mental status and was possibly under the influence of a controlled substance,” the suit says.
James was taken to jail in Oroville, leaving her shoes behind, booked and later released around 3 p.m., the suit says. When she was released, she was not provided shoes or a bus ticket to get her home to Chico, the suit says. The cities are 23 miles from one another.
“Ms. James was simply thrown out onto the streets of the city of Oroville,” the suit says.
Six hours later, James was arrested again, this time by Oroville police Officer Robert Sasek, who found her at a Home Depot “incoherent and unable to care for herself,” the suit says.
“Because Officer Sasek believed that Ms. James was incapable of taking care of herself and additional calls for law enforcement assistance would continue if Ms. James remained at Home Depot, Officer Sasek arrested Ms. James,” the suit says.
The officer took her to jail, but the intake nurse would not allow her to be booked because of her condition, and Sasek took James to Oroville Hospital, where he had her wait in his vehicle while he went inside to seek “medical clearance” for James to be booked, the suit says.
But James was never admitted to the hospital, the suit says, adding that Sasek cited and released James in the parking lot, despite her condition.
“Officer Sasek knew that Ms. James required urgent medical evaluation and treatment, was possibly under the influence, and was unable to care for herself when he abandoned her in the Oroville Hospital parking lot,” the suit says. “Shortly after leaving Ms. James in the parking lot, a security guard at Oroville Hospital called Officer Sasek on his personal cellphone and requested that Officer Sasek immediately return.
“The security guard informed Officer Sasek that Ms. James had been walking around the exterior of the hospital trying to open locked doors. The security guard further informed Officer Sasek that Ms. James was ‘out of control’ and had ‘barricaded’ herself in a hospital bathroom. The security guard was able to get Ms. James out of the bathroom and escorted her back to the parking lot at Oroville Hospital.”
‘Just shut up,’ cop told woman on journey
Sasek arrived back at the hospital and was met by Sgt. Ali Khan and Officer Isaac Herrera before Sasek placed James back in his vehicle and drove her to an area gas station, the suit says.
“Sergeant Khan and Officer Herrera arrived on scene at the gas station, and the three officers discussed a plan of action,” the suit says, adding that all three officers “were aware and had discussed that Ms. James was under the influence of a narcotic or alcohol, was unable to care for herself and urgently needed to be seen by a medical provider due to the possible use of controlled substances, an altered mental status, poor physical condition and an extremely elevated heart rate.”
“All three officers knew and discussed that Ms. James had been rejected by the jail at booking because she had an urgent medical condition requiring evaluation and treatment and needed to be ‘medically cleared’ prior to being accepted into custody at the jail,” the suit says. “Officer Herrera suggested that Officer Sasek take her out to a remote area on Neal Road at the Waste Facility and abandon Ms. James at the dump.”
Sasek then drove 15½ miles north to the Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility as James asked where they were going and Sasek responded “Don’t worry about it” and “just shut up,” the suit says.
Abandoned at county dump at midnight
They arrived at the dump at midnight, and Sasek told her to get out and ignored her questions about where they were, the suit says.
“You will figure it out, it’s not my problem,” Sasek said before hitting the gas pedal and spraying James with gravel as he drove away, the suit says.
“It is believed he was wearing a body-worn camera while transporting Ms. James,” the suit says. “However, Officer Sasek did not activate his body-worn camera while transporting Ms. James or dropping her off on Neal Road.”
The suit also alleges that Sasek “turned off the vehicle’s GPS tracking capabilities so he could not be monitored while he discarded Ms. James at the dump” and that he also turned off his personal cellphone.
“Officer Sasek did not notify the radio dispatcher of his departure time and beginning mileage when transporting Ms. James, a female arrestee,” the suit says. “The city of Oroville has failed to enact a policy that requires officers to complete this simple task prior to transporting female arrestees.”
James was left at the dump with no way to summon help, the suit says.
“It was dark out and there were no streetlights,” the suit says. “Ms. James had no phone, no water, no shoes, no flashlight and no idea where she was.
“Officer Sasek just drove away discarding her on Neal Road outside of the dump. Officer Sasek, Sergeant Khan and Officer Herrera treated Ms. James as though she was garbage. Their heartless decision to abandon her at the dump would warrant criminal charges if they had abandoned a dog or cat.”
James tried to walk back toward town using the shoulder of the road until “she was struck on her right side by a passing vehicle and was sent flying down an embankment into several large boulders where she remained in and out of consciousness and severely injured for approximately 10 hours,” the suit says.
The driver did not stop to help, and James remained grievously injured at the bottom of the embankment until the next morning when she managed to crawl up and seek help from construction workers at the scene, the suit says.
Surgeries took part of her colon, two toes
She spent the next seven days in intensive care at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, where she was hospitalized for a total of five weeks, the suit says.
“Based on the severe internal injuries that Ms. James sustained, medical providers were forced to remove 30 to 40 percent of her colon, and approximately two feet of her small intestine,” the suit says. “Ms. James has also been informed that due to the internal injuries and removal of a portion of her small intestine and a portion of her colon, she will likely be required to wear a colostomy bag for life.”
She also endured multiple surgeries, including the amputation of two toes, and “continues to experience problems and pain after the amputation,” the suit says.
“Ms. James has experienced and will continue to experience pain and suffering, and mental and emotional distress for the rest of her life,” the suit says. “Ms. James has been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of Officer Sasek’s misconduct.
“Ms. James has incurred past medical expenses and costs and will be incurring future medical expenses as she will require care and treatment for the remainder of her life.”