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Unser Sr. files suit alleging mistreatment by deputies

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Felicia Fonseca
Associated Press / July 17, 2008

ALBUQUERQUE - Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Sr. contends sheriff's deputies violated his civil rights and harmed him physically when they arrested him in 2006 during a fracas at a roadblock.

Unser filed a lawsuit Monday in US District Court against Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and Deputies Jason Katz, Shureke Covington, and Anthony Medrano.

The lawsuit was filed after failed attempts to reach a settlement, said Bob McNeill, an attorney for Unser.

A jury in December 2006 acquitted Unser on charges of resisting and disobeying police orders to leave the roadblock near a crime scene Aug. 9.

His brother, Bobby Unser, arrived at the roadblock later that day and was arrested after confronting police. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Bobby Unser in March 2007.

Deputies said the brothers tried to get around the roadblock and ignored orders to leave the area where authorities had cornered an armed carjacking suspect.

The Unsers said they were on their property and were strong-armed by deputies.

Al Unser's lawsuit alleges arrest without cause, excessive force, malicious prosecution, conspiracy to violate due process, and retaliation for exercising his rights to free speech.

White said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit.

Department spokeswoman Erin Kinnard Thompson said, "It is our understanding that there are numerous false claims contained within the lawsuit."

Unser wants records related to the incident expunged - including fingerprints, mug shots, and arrest records - and wants those items returned to him. The lawsuit also seeks punitive and compensatory damages to be decided by a jury.

Unser had offered to settle the claims for $700,000, provided the records were expunged, McNeill said. If not, Unser would have settled for $950,000.

The lawsuit said Unser was attempting to avoid an apparent accident scene when he was confronted by officers on his property, waving their arms and yelling.

He stopped when he determined he was being told to stop, but deputies continued to yell, the lawsuit said.

Unser got out of his truck and asked a uniformed officer for his name and card but instead got an enraged and confrontational reaction, so he returned to his truck and tried to leave, the lawsuit said.

Deputies opened the driver's side door, pulled Unser out of the truck, threw him into the dirt, and handcuffed him, the lawsuit said.

Unser was taken to jail and released later that day.

McNeill said Unser has been in a lot of pain since the incident aggravated existing shoulder and ankle injuries that were a result of racing.

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