NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court says a Hispanic Iraq War veteran can revive his lawsuit over a beating by two New Orleans police officers who he said called him a “fake American.”
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jorge Gomez on Nov. 18.
Gomez is a U.S. native who was raised in Honduras and served with the National Guard in Iraq. He encountered the two off-duty officers inside a bar on the night of July 24, 2018.
Gomez was wearing fatigues and a beret. He said the officers, both of whom are white, questioned his military service and called him a “fake American” before beating him outside.
The New Orleans Police Department quickly fired both officers. Officer John Galman eventually pleaded guilty to simple battery, while Officer Spencer Sutton pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace.
In July 2019, Gomez sued the city and the former officers in federal court.
However, U.S. District Judge Barry Ashe found that the city wasn't liable in the lawsuit because Sutton and Galman were nothing more than “private citizens in a bar fight.”
Gomez argues that Sutton and Galman were acting like police officers, including identifying themselves as such when they called 911.
“These allegations are key,” the circuit court panel said in its unsigned opinion. “A victim usually does not follow orders from someone who just attacked him without good reason to do so. He is even less likely do so when — as alleged here — the victim was in the process of escaping his attackers.”
The panel was made up of Judges Carl E. Stewart, James Ho and Kurt Engelhardt.
In a concurring opinion, Ho called the question of whether the city could be held responsible at this point a “close case.” However, he added that he was “happy” to reverse Ashe on the point.
“If the allegations in this case are true, the officers have not merely brutalized one man — they have badly undermined public trust in law enforcement. And unfortunately, the misconduct alleged here is not unique,” he said.
In a statement, New Orleans police spokesperson Gary Scheets noted that the officers were quickly suspended.
“While NOPD cannot comment specifically on active litigation, the department’s swift action related to the suspension and subsequent termination of these two officers is a clear statement that this sort of behavior was not, and will not be tolerated at NOPD,” Scheets said.