Skip navigation

Calls for California Sheriff’s Department Oversight After Jail Deaths, $30,000 Settlement for Botched Traffic Stop

By January 7, 2023, after the second death in the county jail in just over 10 weeks, a grassroots nonprofit calling for civilian oversight of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department (SMSD) had rounded up support from the county Board of Supervisors as well as the councils of several cities and 16 of their current or former mayors, plus 23 other community organizations.

The announcement by Fixin’ San Mateo County came after SMSD released nothing more than bare facts about the deaths of Maycarla Fernando Sulapas, 25, who died after a “medical emergency” on January 7, 2023, and Matthew Britton, 34, who was found dead in his cell on October 27, 2022, of what SMSD called “likely…natural causes.”

The nonprofit’s skepticism likely traces back at least to February 2021, when SMSD also offered no comment on a $30,000 payment made to settle claims that deputies assaulted a local man whose domestic dispute ended in a botched traffic stop, after which he was manhandled and jailed on charges later dropped.

Michael Juricich was walking along a San Carlos street on December 1, 2018, when he passed a car driven by his domestic partner, Michelle Gore. She made an illegal U-turn and was pulled over by SMSD Dep. David Brandt. In its analysis of the lawsuit Juricich later filed, the federal court for the Northern District of California described what happened next:

“As Brandt was conducting the traffic stop, a pedestrian who would not normally be involved in a motor vehicle traffic stop (Juricich) walked in front of a still moving patrol car to the driver’s side next to traffic on a busy road, repeatedly states ‘cite her,’ fails to quickly comply with Brandt’s order to get back on the sidewalk, tells Brandt that the driver of the pulled over car was ‘cheating on me,’ and responds angrily when Brandt touched him to get him to move back to the sidewalk.”

At that point, Juricich turned and walked away. But Brandt radioed for him to be apprehended on suspicion of domestic violence. Two other deputies intercepted Juricich a short distance away. One, Michael H. Koehler, struck him in the face and forced him down, putting his knee on his head. The other, Lisandro Lopez, stood on Juricich’s leg and pulled his arm backward, Juricich said, causing significant pain. Worse, the assault dislodged a colostomy bag that Juricich was wearing, and the deputies allegedly refused entreaties to let him reattach it.

Juricich and his damaged colostomy bag were booked into Redwood City Jail, where he remained about nine hours before he was released and charged with assault on a police officer – a charge that was later dropped. Juricich then filed suit in the Court in October 2019 against the county, SMSD and its deputies, accusing them of providing false information “so as to falsely inculpate [him]” and “cover-up Defendants’ misconduct.”

Juricich noted “numerous complaints ... concerning use of excessive force and other acts of misconduct” by SMSD deputies, indicating the agency had a “custom and policy” to use or tolerate excessive force by its failure to train, supervise, discipline and investigate deputies accused of misconduct. Juricich also described the injuries he suffered as a result of the deputies’ use of force, which included a black eye, bruised ribs and forearm, extreme pain, and permanent partial blindness in one eye.

His complaint claimed the deputies violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, extending liability to SMSD and the county for its “custom or policy” under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). He also made claims related to interference with his use of the colostomy bag under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. ch.126 § 12101, et seq.

Granting the deputies qualified immunity, the Court dismissed all claims on January 29, 2021, except the ADA claims for Juricich’s injury after his arrest and during his detention. See: Juricich v. Cty. of San Mateo, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18764 (N.D. Cal.). The parties then reached their settlement agreement the following month, which included fees and costs for Juricich’s San Francisco attorney, David M. Helbraun. See: Juricich v. Cty. of San Mateo, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:19-cv-06413.

Since then, Fixin’ San Mateo County has been calling for an “independent review [to] be done immediately and without any influence” from county District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe. 

Additional source: The Almanac