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Tased and Confused

Business Owner Alleges Police Brutality


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The manager and co-owner of a State Street restaurant is claiming he was seriously and wrongfully injured by Santa Barbara police officers during an altercation at the height of the Fiesta celebrations.

Skye McGinnes — the stepson of city councilmember Bendy White who oversees operations at Relais de Paris, owns a slice of Arlington Tavern, and runs SkyeLine Construction — alleges that, as he was trying to kick an unruly patron out of the French eatery on August 3, two SBPD officers tasered him without warning then slammed him into the pavement, breaking his nose, shattering his eye socket, and mangling his ear.

According to McGinnes, he and one of the restaurant’s bouncers were closing down the bar shortly before midnight when they made Daniel Battaglia leave because he was intoxicated and acting aggressively. Though Battaglia was escorted out a back door that looks onto De La Guerra Plaza, the 30-year-old tried to get in again soon after. McGinnes went outside to keep him out, and the two started wrestling with property’s back gate with Battaglia spitting on McGinnes and McGinnes kicking Battaglia through the bars.

“Before I knew it, I was getting tased,” remembered McGinnes, claiming he received no warnings or commands from the police to stop struggling with Battaglia. After feeling the Taser’s metal prongs pierce his back and the jolt of electricity run through his nervous system, McGinnes said he was slammed face-down onto the ground with the officers digging their knees into his back and head as they put him in handcuffs.

At this point, some of McGinnes’s coworkers ran outside and explained to the officers that he was the restaurant’s manager. Feeling threatened by the rush of bodies, the officers physically pushed a few of them back but soon released McGinnes from the handcuffs and began administering first aid to his face and head. They then called an ambulance that transported McGinnes to Cottage Hospital’s emergency room. Before he left, McGinnes said a police supervisor approached him and apologized.

Meanwhile, Battaglia had been restrained after a short struggle and officially arrested. He was later charged with trespassing, battery likely to produce serious bodily injury, and resisting arrest, and he has a court appearance scheduled for August 4. It’s not clear if Battaglia has secured an attorney, and calls to him seeking comment have not been returned. The police had initially recommended that the District Attorney’s Office charge McGinnes with resisting arrest, but the recommendation was later dropped.

The police department offers a very different account of what occurred that night. According to narratives provided in the arrest report, officers assigned to patrol the downtown corridor during the rambunctious and often unruly citywide party came upon McGinnes fighting with Battaglia at the restaurant’s back gate.

Multiple officers — as well as Santa Barbara Sheriff’s personnel — say they witnessed Battaglia punch McGinnes in the face a number of times before they were able to intervene. McGinnes’s injuries, the narratives read, were sustained before the officers laid a hand on him, and he was given ample warning to disengage with Battaglia before he was tased, taken to the ground, and handcuffed. Officers also said they were not able to tell McGinnes worked at the restaurant because he was not wearing any kind of uniform. Battaglia gave a similar statement in the report, saying he refused to leave because he didn’t believe McGinnes was actually an employee. According to the officers, Battaglia admitted to hitting McGinnes four to five times while they were engaged in “mutual combat.”

How McGinnes’s detainment was carried out is also a source of contention. In the report, an officer writes a Sheriff’s deputy had taken a hold of his right arm and told him to get on the ground, but that McGinnes held onto the gate and refused to comply. Hearing what he thought was more commotion inside the restaurant, the officer said he deployed his Taser into McGinnes’s upper back from six inches away “to bring his resistance to an immediate halt so I could survey the remainder of the scene.”

The officers also say they held onto McGinnes when he was shocked and gently laid him on the ground. “I noted a large pool of blood begin to form on the ground under McGinnes’s face,” the report reads. “I was confident the blood stemmed from the injuries he sustained form [sic] being punched in the face multiple times.”

In interviews, McGinnes concedes that he may have been hit by Battaglia, but if he was, he doesn’t remember. “My memory is very different than what the cops have reported,” he said. “Maybe I did get hit in the head, but if I did, it must have knocked out my memory.” Even if he was hypothetically punched and bleeding when the cops approached, he wondered, why was he responded to so aggressively instead of being helped? “I wish I had been the perpetrator,” said McGinnes. “He got much better treatment.”

McGinnes hasn’t wavered from his account since the incident took place, believing that the official police narrative reads “more like a defense than a reporting of events,” and said he’s been speaking with friend and attorney Josh Lynn to explore his legal options. Of his injuries, doctors said he may need surgery if his breathing is affected.

Police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood said because of the open criminal case against Battaglia, he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the incident. However, he said, “At this point, there is no reason to think the police reports don’t stand on their own. If Mr. McGinnes thinks he has been subjected to any kind of misconduct, my recommendation is he make a complaint.” Harwood said if any parts of the report need clarification, the details will be vetted in court.

The video that originally accompanied this story, which was provided by McGinnes, was removed after objections from one of his family members.