Hopefully this view is familiar, but take the Muni J over the hill on Church Street at night for roller coaster like views of Dolores Park, the Mission and the Civic center and financial district all lit up

A Northern California family has filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Police Department, alleging that officers gave a vacationing doctor a concussion, held his 10-month-old baby “hostage,” and cuffed and arrested his wife for taking a sip of coconut water.

These are only a handful of the allegations detailed in the lawsuit filed in the US District Court of Northern California in March by emergency room physician Sam Martisius and his partner, Kirstin Johnson, who are the parents of five children, ranging in age from 10-months to nine years. The suit stems from a disputed confrontation that took place in Dolores Park in January 2019. 

“It’s a case of the nanny state run amok,” said Ben Rosenfeld, a civil rights attorney representing the family, adding that “the police overreacted” and caused the incident to spiral out of control. 

City Attorney’s office, which represents the police department, disagrees.

“This lawsuit is without merit,” said John Coté, a City Attorney spokesman. “The officers in this case responded reasonably to multiple civilian complaints regarding Ms. Johnson and Mr. Martisius’s neglect of their young children while intoxicated.”

According to the complaint, the family drove its van down to San Francisco from their Mendocino County farm on Jan. 31, 2019. They had a dog named Gandhi with them and were hoping to find a new home for it. Once in San Francisco, the family went ice skating, did some shopping, and ended up at Dolores Park in the late afternoon. 

Martisius brought his 10-month-old son with him to the Dolores Park basketball courts to find a pickup game. With his son courtside, he shot hoops until it got dark. In the meantime, Johnson and her kids tried to find a home for Gandhi the dog. 

At around 9 p.m. Officer Kierstie Barr and Lieutenant Marina Chacon arrived on the scene following reports that the couple was intoxicated, according to the lawsuit. 

The officers approached Johnson and asked her if she had been drinking. She had had a drink earlier in the day, but was not intoxicated, the lawsuit says. The officers also asked where her partner was.

Officer Barr then ran toward the basketball courts, and soon officers Hava Carter-Ribako, Samson Hung, and Flint Paul joined her. They summoned Martisius — but as he went to pick up his baby, Officer Paul allegedly “charged” Martisius, “shoved him from behind,” and knocked him down, so his head hit the pavement, giving him a concussion. Martisius never resisted the officers, verbally or physically, the lawsuit says. 

Officer McCarter-Ribako then took the 10-month-old baby, and walked him to the group of officers. “Alarmed both by her husband’s arrest, and the fact that a strange police officer had her baby, Johnson pleaded with the police to give her the baby, and to let her nurse him,” the lawsuit says. 

Instead, the officer “paraded” the baby around, showing him to other officers. “Not only did the other officers fail to intervene to curtail and rectify this outrageous abuse,” the lawsuit says, “they joined in it by positioning themselves to wall Johnson off from being able to see” her baby. The officers used the baby as a “hostage to pressure her to respond.” 

After Johnson walked to her car for coconut water, officers allegedly swarmed her, removing a child from a carrier on her back and arresting her. Like her husband, Johnson did not resist physically or verbally, the lawsuit says. 

The couple was humiliated and the children were frightened, the lawsuit says.

A police report written by Officer Barr, however, tells a dramatically different story. 

Firstly, she and other police responded to reports that a man “was holding an infant and being belligerent and yelling at other pedestrians,” intoxicated. Barr reported that she and other officers contacted Johnson, and her breath smelled of alcohol, and that the van had several empty alcohol containers strewn inside. 

Secondly, when officers took custody of the 10-month-old, Martisius became “combative” and officers needed to restrain him. Barr wrote that Martisius told officers he was not injured. Barr also said they found alcohol on his person, and said his breath smelled of alcohol and Martisius slurred his speech. Furthermore, Barr said Johnson was being uncooperative. 

“Based on Johnson’s and Samuel Martisius’ statements, Johnson’s and Samuel Martisius’ actions, witness statements, and my observations,” Barr wrote in her report, “I believe Johnson and Samuel Martisius were under the influence of alcohol. I believe that Johnson and Samuel Martisius were unable to care for themselves and their children due to their level of intoxication.”

The couple was eventually booked on five felony counts of willful child endangerment, resisting arrest, and public intoxication. 

All of those charges, however, were never pursued by the District Attorney. “At the time of the incident, the police department presented the case to DA, but the DA’s office did not charge the case and has not charged the case since,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the DA’s office. 

Rosenfeld said he has requested officer body-camera footage of the incident, but he is still waiting for it. “If they’re so sure of the righteousness of their behavior,” he said, “give us the video.”

Coté, the City Attorney spokesman, said that Rosenfeld has not requested the body-camera footage through the litigation process. The office will “produce relevant records, including body-worn camera footage” once discovery begins, he said. 

Moreover, the police did not conduct a field sobriety test, so there is scant evidence that the parents were intoxicated, other than the officers’ accounts, Rosenfeld said.

“They had plenty of time to conduct an actual breathalyzer,” he said.

And indeed, the police report mentions no tests. 

The lawsuit further alleges that, after the couple’s arrest, officers “carjacked” the van by driving it to Mission Station with the children inside. The children and their parents remained separated at Mission Station until a social worker picked up the children in the middle of the night. Martisius and Johnson were transported to San Francisco County Jail. 

Gandhi the dog was taken by Animal Care and Control. The agency has not yet returned our call and his fate is not known. 

All the while, Martisius was allegedly deprived of medical attention for his head injury, the lawsuit alleges. 

Once the couple was released on a $40,000 bond the next morning, they found out that their children were being transported to Child Protective Services in Mendocino, the lawsuit says. The couple made their way back up north and were able to reunite with their children. During an inspection at the family’s home a week later, social workers found nothing amiss — they found “a loving and mutually supportive family,” the lawsuit says. 

What was supposed to be “fun and relaxing day,” the lawsuit says, turned into a nightmare. 

And now Johnson and Martisius are suing the SFPD and the city for unlawful arrest; false arrest and imprisonment; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; violations of California civil rights; interference with retaliation against the free exercise of expression; unlawful and unreasonable search and seizure; “trespass to chattels” (unlawfully taking their van); and negligence. 

The couple is asking for a raft of damages — including monetary damages exceeding $25,000.

The couple’s lawsuit points out the “cruel irony” of the incident: In attempting to protect the children, the officers involved in the incident “in fact traumatized the children.”    

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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35 Comments

  1. This is one of the strangest scenarios I’ve heard. But something is off with this family—who randomly brings a dog into SF to walk the streets, trying to rehome it… wtf is wrong with them?

      1. If it were “typical liberal projection” then the blame would be on the cops.

        Demands of firing and prosecution of the officers would litter this (and other) message boards.

        In addition there would be someone who would state that the POA should pay all settlements instead of taxpayers. Then someone else would chime in and say that the POA is corrupt, run by criminals, and are power hungry etc, etc.

        So, no, questioning the parent’s actions is not typical liberal projection.

    1. Have you ever lived in the Mendocino ? This is a typical family from the earea. Mendocino Countys main source of revenue for decades is the marijuana crop. Everyone (including judges, doctors, attorneys, sheriffs, teachers, etc. and their grandmas generationally grow pot. As a result there are extremely wealthy families that live like the Beverly Hillbillies and it is a “no snitch” community since the days of CAMP (with law enforcement helicopters terrorizing all the growers in the 80’s war on drugs) it is an outlaw mentality where the very worst of human behavior is accepted and the worst thing one can do is “judge others behavior”. “Its all cool man.” Most of these people have an extreme fear of ” the City” and many haven’t ventured out or rarely left the Mendoworld for the past 40+ years! This story does not surprise me at all ((after living there in the 80’s for 10 years and with some family still there. .) It is a completely unique and different culture, code of ethics, language and belief system from anywhere maybe on Earth.

      1. Nice projection. Yes, some people that live in Mendocino live this life, but making a general assessment of who they are with no knowledge is just stupid. The guy is a doctor, so that’s not the “average Mendo pot grower”.

    2. NBee,

      The cop who tackled the doctor from behind was one Sgt. Flint Paul.

      Recognize him?

      Same guy who cost City quarter million for putting the skateboarder in the hospital.

      h.

  2. Wildly diverging accounts. Would be interesting to know how it turns out. Probably some kind of settlement. FWIW Sam Martisius name isn’t in California Medical Boards as a doctor or nurse. Though it’s not relevant, I wonder what products they produce on their farm.

        1. Not a big Speller,

          My first search says he’s an emergency room physician in Willits and has
          credentials at couple of other area hospitals.

          To Sgt. Flint Paul, he was just another target of opportunity for physical assault.

          If a 19 year-old skateboarder is worth a quarter mil settlement?

          What’s the doctor gonna get?

          The Sergeant has 22 years service?

          Take the retirement and buy a Patrol Special beat.

          h.

      1. That’s exactly the name I searched and it took me 30 seconds to find out he is licensed from the state of MI in emergency medicine.

  3. The Police is the biggest organized gang in America. They truly over react to everything and abuse authority almost always and don’t get shit but a pat on the back and more ammo. Smh America’s police system is complete terrible.

    1. My girlfriend and i also had an encounter with the SFPD that was extremely unwarranted and traumatizing, a few months ago the police were called to our house over an accident that lead to a severe laceration on my lower left abdomen. my girlfriend and i were literally about to get in an uber to go to the ER when a police officer barged in our front door. at first i thought, “cool, maybe there’s an ambulance” when the officer saw that i had blood on my hands he instead of helping me, instructed me to lay down. I told him “officer you don’t understand, this is my blood, i need an ambulance”. the police officer ignored what i said and began taking his handcuffs out. I didn’t understand why i was being put in hand cuff instead of being helped. so, i told him “i need to speak to your supervisor” i plead with him to please call an ambulance. He ignored my request multiple times before forcing me to the ground yelling at me “STOP RESISTING” . he handcuffed me and 4 more officers barged in the front door and restrained my girlfriend who was begging him to let me go. it seemed like forever before he noticed the blood on the floor and realised i was not lying about my injury. finally he called for an ambulance. he had managed to aggravate the open wound that we were able keep pressure on to slow the bleeding down. i was still in handcuffs when i was put on a gurney and carried down the stairs. i was in shock, crying now for my girlfriend to be with me but was being held back by the other officers. i had surgery where they had to put me to sleep, i had 14 stitches. i wasn’t discharged until 3 o clock the next day. i had no phone or clothes because the police took my pants and shirt as evidence. I asked them “evidence for what? no you can not have my pants and shirt” but they took them anyway… I was able to get ahold of my dad luckily who picked me up and took me home. come to find that they had arrested her because they assumed she was the one who cut me even though i told them it wasn’t her. Our room was a mess and all of our animals were gone. i was immobile with no phone or any idea how to get in touch with her.i had no idea what to do for 3 agonizing days of worry during the beginning of the shelter in place order i hadn’t even heard about yet. I finally got a call from and attorney asking about the incident and i told them “she did not cut me, she was walking me out to an uber when the police came in and abused me”. when she got back home to find her 2 dogs, her cat, out 2 little rats, and her snake were all taken by the ACC. Luckily we were able to get them out, all but 1. they sent her snake to another facility because apparently boa constrictors are illegal in SF. it was heartbreaking. I missed a whole week of work which happens to be an essential business . we were were both traumatised by what had happened that tigh. a situation that could have been completely avoided had that officer done his job correctly….. i don’t even know what to do about it. i wanted to press charges on the officer but have no idea how to go abouts doing that. or if its to late to make a claim. we cant afford a lawyer. so we have just sort of tried to keep moving forward. any suggestions or references would be very much appreciated.

      1. Hey I too have had a near death experience with Daly City pd Colma city pd and ssf pd look this Man named Frank Passaglia is a Attorny in Daly City he is a retired sf cop and a former DA now he’s a criminal defense lawyer he talked to us god blessed us in our situation with saving the video on my phone that the cops broke while they was beating my wife ive been researching ever since it happened on feb 24 2020 on hillside Blvd in front of 7-Eleven and loop so he gave us a civil lawyer to call after we get our bs charges dropped the civil lawyers number is (925–278-6662) his name is John also Franks number is (415-309-5890)

      2. After reading your experience I would DEFINITELY encourage u on NOT giving up as far as taking legal action against that officer and the SFPD. I would suggest that lawyer in Oakland, John Burris that specializes in police brutality cases. Also don’t be discouraged because u are poor like me. The idea that we as poor people don’t have any power is one that is kept alive by the ruling classes for the very reason that those cops can keep getting away with what they did to u as long as people ACCEPT that “powerlessness”. There many groups that will/might take ur case for free. Call the Bar Association or get in touch with the Copwatcn folks. Never give up.
        #A.C.A.B.//F.T.P!!

      3. Mr. Hall,

        When they yell, “Stop resisting!!!” that usually means they’re about
        to beat the crap out of you.

        Hell, they’d charge Bambi with disturbing the peace for mourning his mother.

        Did you get the cop’s name?

        Just posting the offender’s name on a thread like this is enuff to slow em down sometimes.

        Other times, like with Sgt. Flint Paul, it’s not.

        h.

      4. Its never too late. My incident with Santa Barbara PD left me with a fractured wrist and I suffered a stroke ( never saw a doctor, they wouldn’tet me). Trying finding a number for federal review board of police departments. They will take them (SFPD) down. It is an external department.

  4. I always hang out with all my young children in the park until 9pm in January instead of getting them to bed. My infant has learned more on the courts than he ever will at nursery school. And sometimes you just need to take your dog named after another nation’s hero to the city to find it another home. Who doesn’t just wake up in the morning and get ideas like that. And I was taking those empties to the recycling center for redemption. It is important to model good behavior for the children.

    1. “I always hang out with all my young children in the park until 9pm in January instead of…”

      Well, that makes two of you. Can we just stop there…? People…?

  5. Always record your interactions with the police. They have cameras…you have a high definition mobile phone with a camera.

    1. Oh, hell No. You’re wrong and irresponsible to recommend this. You co-operate and don’t inflame the situation with the adrenaline-charged cops. And just hope that some civilian observer can record it for you. Doing anything other than yes’m no’sir is just stupid and runs counter to the experience of anyone who’s limbo-ed their way out of a police confrontation. Yes, the police are the toughest gang in town. Hope like hell you walk away able to process that thought with a non-concussed brain. I’ll stand with you after the fact, if there is one. Because I’ve been roughed up for almost nothing, too.

  6. @NBee: The family were looking for another home for Ghandi the dog because he was harassing the livestock on the farm. He jumped in the car as they were leaving, so they brought him along. This and other details are spelled out in the lawsuit, just not discussed in the article.

  7. Having seen SFPD do things like this routinely and cover up for eachother in reports routinely I have little doubt that most of this did happen the way the couple said and that they were not resisting or threatening anyone. Whether or not they were drunk would have been a lot more easily accomplished with a FST or ‘lyzer test if you’re going to actually book them for that and take their children away on that basis.

    Now it’s a lawsuit, because of course it is. If they weren’t resisting they certainly didn’t deserve to be roughed up, at all, bottom line. That’s not acceptable.

    1. Watchandlisten,

      Cop that attacked him was same cop (Sgt. Flint Paul) who blocked the
      skateboarder in 2017 at the annual Dolores St. Hill Bomb.

      He cost us quarter million on that one.

      Wonder what doctors get?

      Only cop I can recall to get instant justice attacked a beauty in North Beach.

      They had him there cause they knew he was a thug who’d stick it to the crowd.

      He was a lateral transfer wearing another cop’s jacket complete w/name patch.

      How’d they get him?

      Chick he attacked was one of Willie Brown’s ladies.

      h.

  8. I’m not an expert on law enforcement, but it does seem strange to me to arrest people for intoxication and remove their children from them (a major decision) without a field sobriety test or breathalyzer – if you suspect intoxication why not test for it?
    On the other hand the police action seems to be extreme enough that i would find it hard to believe there wasn’t something fishy going on with these adults. Very curious to see the footage – bodycam doesn’t tell the whole truth but would provide an interesting window into these 2 written accounts….
    Anyway thanks as always to mission local for covering this type of stuff.

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