Lawsuit Claims CHP Officer Choked Man after DUI Stop

NEWCASTLE -- A lawsuit claims a former Newcastle California Highway Patrol officer used excessive force after pulling a man over on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Samuel LaVigne claimes the officer choked him twice while he was in handcuffs in December 2017.

"He took both of his hands and put them around my throat and lifted my body up. And slammed my head up against the counter-top that was right there and squeezed and squeezed," LaVigne told investigators in an audio recording obtained by FOX40. "He basically was on top of me telling me I don't (expletive) move unless I'm (expletive) told to."

LaVigne claims he was seriously injured that night.

"Very upset by it, missed work," said Stewart Katz, LaVigne's attorney. "It still hurts him to this day."

Katz filed a lawsuit on LaVigne's behalf, claiming Officer Stephen Johnson used excessive force. The lawsuit details Johnson pulling LaVigne over for drunken driving, which LaVigne admits to.

Johnson took him to the Newcastle Highway patrol office where Lavigne claims the first choking incident occurred.

"He stood up to look for a bathroom. He probably shouldn’t have but he wasn’t going anywhere, he was handcuffed," Katz said. "Not surprisingly, someone who has been drinking needs to go to the bathroom. The reaction was so disproportionate and so over the top."

Then, while taking LaVigne to the Auburn Jail, the lawsuit claims Johnson choked him again.

The lawsuit says Johnson "karate chopped" LaVigne's throat, put him "in a choke hold and used his other arm to drop elbows on LaVigne's back and the back of his throat."

According to the lawsuit, LaVigne suffered blunt trauma, bruising, abrasions and a fracture in his neck cartilage.

When reached for comment, the CHP said it could not discuss the matter due to the lawsuit but it confirmed Johnson was no longer employed by the department as of February 2018.

Now, LaVigne wants financial compensation and further training for CHP officers, as he says many watched the alleged incidents happen.

"They need to remind people that a code of silence is not OK," Katz said.

No charges were ever filed against LaVigne after that DUI arrest.

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