A businessman’s claim he wasn’t combative with marshals before he was beaten and stunned with a stun gun while handcuffed in custody appears to be backed up in Family Court security video that recently has surfaced.
John Conforte alleged in court documents late last month that now-suspended marshal Steve Rushfield participated in his 2008 beating in a private hallway outside a holding cell area at Family Court.
Rushfield, a sergeant and supervisor at the time, is at the center of an FBI investigation into allegations of excessive force and cover-ups at Family Court. He was suspended Dec. 18 with pay amid an internal court investigation.
Conforte, 46, who now lives in Burbank, Calif., leveled the new excessive-force allegations in court papers seeking to overturn his gross misdemeanor conviction for battery on an officer and a lesser conviction for resisting an officer stemming from the Feb. 19, 2008, altercation. He was accused of kicking a marshal during the scuffle.
Two security videos related to the confrontation were attached to new court papers filed over the weekend by Conforte’s lawyer, Chris Rasmussen.
One clip showed a handcuffed Conforte calmly being led by Rushfield and other marshals past a crowded clerk’s office to the private hallway. Conforte did not appear to be resisting the officers.
The other clip showed Rushfield and others opening the door at the other end of the hallway, picking Conforte up from the floor and walking him through a nearby door to the holding cell area.
In his court papers, Rasmussen said it is clear from the video that Conforte was not “out of control,” as one marshal said in sworn testimony.
The security video did not show what happened to Conforte in the hallway, which was a “camera dead spot,” Rasmussen argued.
The incident began when marshals accused Conforte, who was at Family Court on a case involving his child, of being verbally abusive to them. Conforte contends the marshals were instructed to “drop him” in the hallway, where Rushfield told him, “This is my f---ing house. How do you feel now, tough guy?”
According to a transcript of Conforte’s November 2008 preliminary hearing in Justice Court, then-marshal Torrey Durrett testified that Conforte was unruly with Rushfield and others.
Rasmussen said the video is evidence of a “manifest injustice.”
District Judge Valerie Adair is to decide later this month whether to grant Rasmussen a hearing to present evidence of misconduct.
Court officials have said they can’t comment on allegations that are part of an “active case.”
In court papers, Chief Deputy District Attorney Sam Bateman opposes overturning Conforte’s battery conviction, arguing there were plenty of witnesses to Conforte’s “criminal acts” at Family Court and no solid evidence of marshal wrongdoing.
“Any tie between his case and Rushfield’s alleged conduct is little more than conjecture,” Bateman wrote.
In March 2009, Conforte pleaded guilty to the battery charge and a misdemeanor charge of resisting a public officer. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation.
Rasmussen said in court papers last week that he advised Conforte to take the plea deal to avoid possible prison time. Conforte reluctantly agreed, he said.
But Rasmussen said he now believes a “culture of violence and sexual harassment” led to his client’s “unlawful arrest and beating.”
Rushfield has been accused of choking Crystal Williams on May 20, 2010, while she was confined to a restraining chair in a holding cell. Williams, 27, testified before a federal grand jury earlier this year.
Other marshals have said Rushfield tried to cover up that incident and another involving former marshal Ron Fox, who is accused of groping Monica Contreras, 28, who was in Family Court on Aug. 8, 2011, for a divorce-related hearing.
Fox denies wrongdoing, but the FBI also is investigating that case.
On a courtroom security video, Contreras is heard complaining to a hearing master that Fox had groped her in a witness room under the guise of searching for drugs, only to be ignored and arrested for complaining.
Fox and the hearing master were later fired.
Contact reporter Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.