Alleging systemic civil rights violations, a Nipomo man who was incarcerated for nearly 23 months and then completely acquitted has filed suit against San Luis Obispo County, the county Sheriff’s Department, and several individuals in the department.
Michael Aaron McGrew was initially arrested on May 3, 2012, and charged with eight felonies related to an alleged burglary and alleged sexual assault of two girls, ages 16 and 18.
According to the suit, McGrew’s bail was set at $1 million due to the severity of the charges, and he was allegedly assaulted five different times in jail—losing two teeth in the process—because of the stigma associated with the charges.
After a three-week jury trial and fewer than two hours of jury deliberation, McGrew was found not guilty of all charges on March 14, 2014, and subsequently freed from jail.
“Michael was fully acquitted, but, in my mind, we’ve still only gotten halfway to justice being served,” said Patrick Fisher, McGrew’s attorney. “From start to finish, the Sheriff’s Department’s conduct in this case has been outrageous.”
Fisher was McGrew’s public defender for the criminal case, and—along with his father and legal partner, David—Fisher officially filed a 36-page civil suit in federal U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on April 29.
McGrew is the plaintiff in the suit, and SLO County, the SLO County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Ian Parkinson, Commander Jim Voge, Deputy Brian Mollenkopf, Detective Sonja O’Donohoe, and former deputy Noah Martin are all named as defendants.
Fisher and McGrew claim 13 different causes of action in the lawsuit, including false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, negligence, and civil conspiracy.
Though the specific allegations are manifold, the essence of Fisher and McGrew’s argument is that the Sheriff’s Department systematically misrepresented and suppressed facts in the case against McGrew, trumping up charges that caused him to suffer extensive pain and suffering, lost wages, and emotional damage.
When reached for comment, Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Anthony Perry said the office hadn’t yet had the opportunity to review the litigation, and referred the matter to county counsel.
Prior to the April 29 civil suit, Fisher filed a claim for damages against the county on Oct. 23, 2013, which was subsequently rejected by the county on Dec. 5.
After McGrew was acquitted on March 14, Fisher proposed an amended claim and a $2 million settlement, which was also summarily rejected by the county.
“The County thoroughly reviewed the claim and the amended claim filed by Mr. McGrew’s attorney, and based on the underlying facts, the claim was rejected by the county,” Chief Deputy County Counsel Nina Negranti wrote in an email to New Times. “The claim has no merit, and the county shall vigorously defend should this matter proceed to litigation.”
Negranti said that that the county hasn’t yet been served with the April 29 suit, and added that “litigation strategy will be determined if and when the county is served.”