Public Safety Defense Litigation


Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley PC’s attorneys have broad trial and appellate experience in the defense of law enforcement officers and agencies. Our attorneys are also seasoned in defending liability claims involving alleged excessive force, officer misconduct and other claims as well as defending Pitchess motions, responding to subpoenas for law enforcement records, and advising public agencies on Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights, labor and employment, and related issues.

Our attorneys have vigorously defended peace officers in federal and state courts around California against a wide variety of claims, including use of force, false arrest, Welfare & Institutions Code section 5150 holds, wrongful death, false imprisonment, alleged civil rights violations, illegal searches and seizure, vehicle impounds, assault and battery, claims arising from custody, and retaliation and discrimination claims. These cases have ranged from traffic stops, foot pursuits, handcuffing, pursuits, takedowns, double-arrests, breaking up of house parties, SWAT team extractions with use of flash bangs and other aggressive responsive techniques, arrests of solicitors at shopping malls and grocery stores, dog-bite cases, and school searches and seizures.   

Our attorneys have represented the Cities of Barstow, Covina, Downey, Gardena, Glendale, San Diego, and Vallejo, and Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, among many other agencies, in law enforcement defense matters. Our team includes the former Deputy City Attorney of Costa Mesa, who advised that City’s police and fire departments; the former legal advisor to the Costa Mesa City Manager, who handled disciplinary hearings for the police and fire departments; and a former Glendale Deputy City Attorney, who defended a plethora of law enforcement cases there. 

A sample of our team’s law enforcement defense matters include:

  • Larson v. City of Glendale, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court, Case No. EC055649. The plaintiff alleged false arrest and elder abuse claims for force used when handcuffing, which allegedly resulted in shoulder separation and superficial skin tearing. A four-day trial produced a defense verdict.
  • Moradian v. City of Glendale, US District Court, Central District, Case No. 2:14-CV-01178. The plaintiff alleged false arrest on private property and that officers’ hard-force techniques and threatened use of pepper spray were excessive. A six-day jury trial resulted in another defense verdict.
  • Shotwell v. City of Vallejo, Solano County Superior Court, Case No. FCS042586. The plaintiff claimed he was falsely arrested after release on bail in retaliation for his operation of a legal marijuana dispensary business due to false statements in a warrant application. We defeated the case on summary judgment.
  • Nguyen v. Lopez et al., Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Case No. D.C. 3:11-cv-02594-WQH-MDD. The plaintiff appealed from judgment following a bench trial in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, alleging unlawful detention and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding the district court properly concluded the defendant San Diego police officers had probable cause to detain Nguyen under California Welfare & Institutions Code § 5150, used reasonable force in doing so, and that deterrence of his speech was not a substantial or motivating factor in their decision to detain him.  

Our experienced general litigators distinguish CH&W’s law enforcement defense practice group. We commonly handle complex trial and appellate matters for California cities, counties, and special districts in the pre-litigation stage and at mediations, administrative hearings, arbitrations, trial and through all stages of an appeal, including 16 arguments in the California Supreme Court since 2004 and several 9th Circuit arguments, as well. We have deep knowledge of such case-dispositive issues as removal to federal court, pre-lawsuit claims requirements, statutes of limitation, immunities, discovery, and pre-trial motions — critical tools to efficiently and successfully resolve law enforcement defense matters. This broad experience allows defense of law enforcement lawsuits with the goal of minimizing discovery and maximizing the likelihood of early dismissal. Some of our attorneys also have criminal experience, including participation in Penal Code § 1538.5 hearings defending officers accused of illegal searches and seizures.

Our attorneys are also well versed in advisory matters for our public agency clients on law enforcement matters. We have extensive experience representing our public agency clients at Pitchess hearings. We frequently advise them on disclosure of police records, disciplinary matters, civil service rules, training issues, and POBRA claims.

Our law enforcement defense team includes: