Kirstin Johnson interacts with a police officer on January 31, 2019.

More than two years after a swarm of SFPD officers arrested a Mendocino couple at Dolores Park and sent their five young children to Child Protective Services, newly released bodycam footage contradicts the police narrative of what went down.

The video was filed with the California Northern District federal court this week, just weeks before a July 19 hearing in the suit filed by married couple Kirstin Johnson and Sam Martisius. The City Attorney is seeking a summary judgement on behalf of the six officers involved, arguing they had probable cause for the arrests. The family is suing the officers for various claims, including unlawful search and seizure, emotional distress, and false arrest and imprisonment. They are seeking more than $25,000 in damages. 

Meanwhile, the police bodycam footage of the “vacation gone wrong” shows a cooperative mother who briefly ceases to comply with officers when her husband is arrested and her children are taken away. 

You may remember the strange story: in January, 2019, Johnson and Martisius, their children, and their dog, Gandhi, came to the city from their farm up north, hoping to rehome the dog, who was aggressive to their farm animals. They went ice skating and shopping, then, at Dolores Park, Johnson and her children found someone interested in Gandhi. While they sat in the grass, Martisius, an emergency room doctor, played basketball at a nearby court. 

Suddenly, they were surrounded by police. The parents were arrested on five felony counts each of willful child endangerment, resisting arrest, and public intoxication, and the children, including a 10-month-old baby, were hauled away to CPS in Mendocino. The dog, meanwhile, was sent to the pound. 

The bodycam footage begins with two officers arriving and asking Johnson questions about her alcohol intake. They tell her they had received reports about Martisius being intoxicated. 

They tell Johnson she smells of alcohol, and Johnson acknowledges having had a drink earlier in the day. No breathalyzer test is administered. 

While she tells officers that her husband, Martisius, has been drinking, the camera footage shows Johnson is coherent and cooperative with the officers, answering questions about why she’s there and providing her identification. However, as more officers arrive, take her children out of view, and continue asking questions about her drinking, Johnson grows anxious. 

“It’s not that I don’t know,” Johnson says in the video, still carrying one child in a harness on her back. “I don’t really feel … as though I should answer any of your questions, because I don’t feel like you are looking at me with eyes of love.” She questions aloud why her family ever came into the city. 

Moments later, the officers charge toward the nearby basketball court and Martisius. The bodycam footage obtained by Mission Local mostly centers around Johnson, but the family’s lawsuit alleges that Martisius went to pick up his 10-month-old baby and an officer shoved him to the ground, resulting in a concussion. 

The motion from the City Attorney’s office, however, says Martisius was sitting with his baby when officers approached, and refused to stand or cooperate with the officers.  

The officer accused of pushing Martisius is Sgt. Flint Paul, who was also caught on video bumping a skateboarder in 2017 as the skater bombed down Dolores Street. This incident led to serious injuries for Anthony Economus, but Paul escaped discipline from the SFPD. 

The footage shows Johnson looking on in disbelief as officers arrest Martisius and take the baby. Afterward, bodycam footage from another officer shows him joking that he doesn’t know how to hold a baby and passing the baby around to others, including a civilian onlooker. From the sidewalk, Johnson begs to hold and breastfeed her child. 

According to John Coté, a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office, the recent motion filed by the city “lays out every reason why this case should be dropped, that the officers absolutely had probable cause to arrest these individuals, they were publicly intoxicated, they were endangering their children. Multiple people had called 911 to report them because they were concerned about the children.” 

In another bodycam segment, an officer visits the nearby Woods Cervecería, where the family had stopped in earlier for pizza. The man behind the counter expressed his concern about the father’s intoxication, but noted he was not worried once he saw Johnson, mentioning that she seemed “even-keeled.” 

And, for much of the incident caught on film, the officers seem to agree — they don’t take the child off Johnson’s back for several minutes and it doesn’t appear as though she will be arrested. 

That is, until she walks to the back of her van to get some coconut water. The officers don’t stop her, but as she begins to question the legality of the officers’ actions, they quickly decide this is the last straw: Sgt. Paul confiscates the coconut water and he and another officer handcuff Johnson. 

While then-District Attorney George Gascón did not pursue the charges against Johnson and Martisius, the couple said that being separated was a traumatic experience for their family. 

According to their attorney, Ben Rosenfeld, the family was reunited within 28 hours — but only because they had the means to pay $40,000 to get out of jail, get their family van out of the impound, and drive back north immediately. The parents’ bail was set at $250,000 each, but Rosenfeld said, “the bail bonds company looked at this case and they thought it was so outrageous that they actually voluntarily offered to take less than [the standard] 10 percent.” 

“I certainly believe in some significant degree of intervention on behalf of children for their protection and safety,” Rosenfeld said. “But I mean, this is just through the looking glass, and the police inflicted the very terror they’re pretending to try to prevent.” 

As for the dog, Gandhi, the family returned to the city and paid to get him back from Animal Control, and eventually were able to rehome him in Mendocino. 

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Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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24 Comments

    1. More than $25k – the amount being sought is unknown. The injured skater mentioned was paid north of $40k, if I remember right.

    2. You have to allege at least $25,000 in damages to get into the more serious civil court. I agree they should get more!

  1. Dear Mission Local: did those 911 calls the city attorney mention get confirmed? And were they EVER breathalyzed? I also think it’s an important post-script to mention what would have happened to the, and their kids if they hadn’t been able/wealthy enough to post bail

  2. Watching this video took my breath away. I live on 19th Street and Dolores and have seen so many horrible things happen in this neighborhood. They should sue. How awful that these police did this to this family.

  3. This is a shocking video showing the unlawful,rude, irresponsible way the police treated this mother of five children. She was NOT intoxicated but was hand cuffed and separated from her frightened children. This is Police Brutality!

  4. Apparently you have never seen an Intoxicated person before, sfpd did the best they could. But yourself in their shoes, you let them drive away with the dog and kids? If yes, you are a fool, this is best practice policing and they are luck it happened in sf. You are blind and dumb if you don’t realize the step back sfpd has taken in recent years.

  5. Appalling. She was causing any disturbance. And when it was decided to arrest her they failed to give cause and read her her rights which give her the right to remain silent and that she could request an attorney. And why did there have to be 8 to 10 cops on the scene for one defenseless woman and her children? ? ?

  6. A horde of cops for one defenseless woman and her children? How about focusing on getting and arresting the cartel drug dealers in the Tenderloin and the UN Plaza instead? The burglars? The vandals? How about going after those who do break the law and make the city unsafe?

  7. This is so terrible what happened to this lady. Being a resident of the Mission I recognize many of these cops in the video… I am completely let down and disappointed by their actions.

  8. It’s clear the incentives for police are twisted. There seems to be 5-6 cars with like 2 police each, plus a sergeant attending a non-violent call. Meanwhile only 10% of burglaries have arrests, and violent assaults have a standardized policy of “catch and release”. How do we fix the policing incentives?

    1. Vote Libertarian. The Democrats have been in charge for a long time, and it’s clear they – never mind the Republicans – are not serious about police reform. Out of control policing continues, and officers like Flint Paul are not removed from the force or held personally accountable for their actions.

  9. Watch the video of the aforementioned Sgt Flint Paul completely intentionally knock over that skateboarder back in July 2018: https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/sfpd-chief-declines-to-punish-sergeant-who-collided-with-skateboarder/
    It wasn’t any kind of accidental collision. He walked right out into the gap the skaters were going through, said out of the skater’s path but put his arms out to knock into the skater passing by. This pig is complete asshole. And SFPD is a cesspit for not firing him. But hey, remember the swastikas in the police vans in the 70s? Descendants of the slave patrols indeed!

  10. 25k isn’t enough. 2.5 million, on the other hand, if made to stick, would get attention and possibly pave the way for some reform. Go big, or gtfo.

  11. Consider also this: The underlying reason all this happened is because of a law that prohibits people from being drunk in public. Even if they aren’t hurting anyone. That law gave the police the justification to mistreat the members of this family. This is the kind of harm that is done when peaceful behavior is criminalized. So what if the dad was drinking? He wasn’t hurting anyone. He and his wife and kids should have been left alone. The emotional suffering inflicted on them accomplished absolutely zero, other than to waste a lot of taxpayer money paying cops to bully and traumatize people.

    1. The only prohibits people being drunk in public if you are intoxicated to the point where you are unable to care for yourself or unable to care for someone else for whom you are responsible – for example, your own minor children. I don’t like laws that penalize things that aren’t harmful to anyone, but this isn’t one of them.

  12. SFPD takes endangering children seriously. Five kids and a possible drunk driver. The officers didn’t have any choice.

  13. The parents made the mistake of drinking alcohol while driving kids around. The mother seems tipsy and she’s saying the father drank too much and wouldn’t listen to her. These cops were in a tough spot. The cops had probable cause to administer a test and they probably should have. There is no way they can just let these parents drive away. Mistakes were made by both sides. Kids are the innocent victims, sadly.

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