Lawsuit filed against USC for DPS misconduct

Image of a white DPS car.
DPS allegedly used excessive force against the plaintiff. (Shriya Jayanthi | Daily Trojan)

Content warning: This article contains references to police violence and abuse.

Department of Public Safety officers are accused of using excessive force against a community member and the University “failed to impose adequate discipline” against the department, according to a lawsuit filed against USC in October. 

According to court documents, there are two causes of action including intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the right of protection from bodily restraint or harm. The plaintiff also filed seven claims for relief, including false arrest/false imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure — detention and arrest, assault and battery and negligence. 

On Oct. 11, 2019 at approximately 2:35 a.m, the plaintiff, Liliana Cortez, walked onto the Alpha Chi Omega property and hugged a tree before DPS officers stopped her and asked if she was homeless, to which she said she was not, according to Cortez’s complaint. 

While the officers accused Cortez of refusing to leave the property according to the complaint, the documents contend that Cortez had “no intention to stay” and that one of the officers “suddenly, unjustifiably, and unreasonably assaulted and forcefully grabbed and pulled Plaintiff and proceeded to unjustly detain her” after Cortez said she was leaving.

Cortez remained calm and asked the officer to stop after their initial action, but multiple officers “piled on top of [Cortez]” as she pleaded for help, according to Cortez’s complaint. 

After piling on top of her, officers allegedly pressed Cortez’s face into the asphalt, bent her fingers back and “[yanked] her arms nearly out of their sockets” while handcuffing her, leading Cortez to “fear for her life,” the complaint reads.

“The DOE officers ignored Plaintiff’s pleas and continued repeatedly pushing and slamming Plaintiff’s head into the ground, causing serious and severe injuries to her body and face,” according to Cortez’s filing. 

After handcuffing her, officers arrested Cortez and her friend and called them “losers” as they put her in the vehicle, according to the complaint, and she spent the night in jail.

In a defense filing to Cortez’s complaint Nov. 8, the University wrote that Cortez was “lawfully detained” by officers and denied all other allegations.

DPS Crime logs from Oct. 11, 2019 list that a male and female were arrested from 2:17 a.m. to 3:36 a.m. for trespassing at the Alpha Chi Omega sorority house.

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, the University wrote that it takes reports of misconduct seriously and “[looks] forward to defending this matter and sharing the facts of what actually occurred in court.”

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Cortez’s lawyer James DeSimone said that he hopes Cortez will receive compensation and that the University will take actions to punish the officers involved. 

“This is a situation where it appears that the USC security officers just engaged in completely unnecessary excessive force against her when she was engaged in just innocent conduct that night, enjoying an evening,” DeSimone said.

According to the Cortez’s complaint, she seeks damages for emotional distress, physical injury, fright, medical expenses, loss of earnings and attorney fees and requested a jury trial.

DeSimone said the officer’s alleged behavior is part of a larger pattern of police misconduct and lack of discipline against officers.

“Unfortunately, because police agencies such as the [Los Angeles Police Department] really have not imposed proper discipline in many instances on officers when they engage in excessive force, it actually encourages and condones officers to engage in that conduct,” he said.

DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan that the department does not comment on issues with pending litigation. 

Attorneys for the University did not respond to multiple requests for comment.