A flower vendor who was seen in a video being violently arrested by officials in Perris last year has filed a lawsuit alleging that her civil rights were violated.
"No human being deserves to be treated like that," Joaquina Valencia said in Spanish during a news conference Monday announcing her complaint against Riverside County, the sheriff and one of the deputies involved.
Joaquina Valencia, 44, headed to Perris from Fontana to sell flowers at a graduation ceremony outside a school on June 6, 2017. She and other vendors had apparently been warned and ticketed, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
Authorities alleged that she was selling on the street and obstructing traffic when two deputies approached her. Valencia's attorneys allege that one of the deputies asked her for her papers, even though she is a U.S. citizen.
Video of the incident taken by a passerby shows Valencia holding a bouquet of flowers as she pulls away from the arresting deputy, identified only as "Deputy Heuer." The man then appears to grab her arm, then her hair and throws her to the ground, the video shows. He appears to put his hand over her mouth before placing her in handcuffs as she is lying on the ground.
Valencia urinated on herself during the violent encounter, and can be heard saying she had done nothing wrong. Her attorneys on Monday also released new video recorded by a body camera worn by one of the deputies.
She was arrested and booked on suspicion of obstructing an officer and giving false information, but the charges were eventually dropped by the Riverside County District Attorney's Office. Authorities had previously identified Valencia as Juanita Mendez-Medrano, but her attorneys clarified that she was likely nervous and scared when she gave the deputies false names.
Luis Carrillo, one of Valencia's attorneys, said the deputy had no business asking his client for her papers.
"He crossed a line from the very beginning and then he used excessive force," Carrillo said. “Just because an individual has brown skin, and doesn’t appear to understand the English language, doesn’t mean that individual is here illegally, it doesn’t mean that individual is a bad person, it doesn’t mean anything other than that individual is probably just upset.”
Valencia's other attorney, Ralph Rios, said she went to Perris to win extra money to support her disabled husband and two children.
Valencia wiped tears from her eyes as she rewatched the video of her arrest. She wore braces on both of her wrists as she said that the incident still affects her physically and emotionally. After being arrested and held in handcuffs for hours, her hands became swollen and sometimes they still go numb.
"I wasn't doing anything, I was just trying to sell some flowers, and he treated me like a rag," Valencia said.
She added that she now has a fear of law enforcement and feels like she is going to be attacked when she sees police officers.
Carrillo said he and Rios want justice for Valencia and that the Riverside County Sheriff's Department needs to change their policies. The complaint, which was filed in June, also alleges unreasonable search and seizure, detention and arrest, excessive force and negligence. Valencia's attorneys are asking for a jury trial over the incident.
"A person selling flowers is making a living, and for him to start asking about papers that shows he has a racist frame of mind to assume she’s not a U.S. citizen," Carrillo said. "The entire Riverside Sheriff's Department has a mentality that has to be removed, they have to fire those kind of deputies."
KTLA reached out to sheriff's officials Monday, but they said they could not comment on pending litigation.