Northern California Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Merced man with schizophrenia alleges police department used excessive force

By Ryan Croft | May 19, 2018


SACRAMENTO – A Merced man has sued Merced County, the city and its police department over allegations his constitutional rights were violated in a chase.

Merced resident Darcy Harper filed a lawsuit April 25 against city police officer Nathaniel McKinnon alleging violation of his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit states Merced police used excessive force in detaining Harper. Harper alleges McKinnon and the other officers who chased him were aware he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and had recently stopped taking his medication. Despite this knowledge, the defendants allegedly used excessive force, according to the lawsuit.

After arresting Harper, Merced officers allegedly placed him in a cell with a criminal they knew to be sexually violent and much larger than Harper. At some point during the first three weeks they shared a cell, the suit states the larger man raped Harper. When Harper complained, a formal investigation was filed and the alleged rapist was removed, the suit states. A few days later, officers allegedly placed him back into the cell with Harper, who was almost immediately released when family members paid his bail.

According to the complaint, on the evening of June 5, 2014, Harper’s sister brought him to Marie Green mental health facility, located in Merced, after he had stopped taking his medications and began showing signs of depression and suicidal thoughts earlier that day. The next day, June 6, at around 4:30 in the morning, Harper suffered a psychotic break and fled the facility in only a nightgown and underwear, according to the complaint.

He allegedly ran toward the U.C. Merced College campus carrying a 4-foot wooden post. When officer McKinnon spotted Harper and gave chase, Harper dropped the post and was unarmed, he alleges.

As Harper scaled a fence into the university's stadium and McKinnon gave chase, the suit states 25 other Merced officers established a perimeter around the outside of the fence to keep Harper from escaping. 

Harper claims he was running away from McKinnon up a 40-foot elevation embankment with his back to McKinnon when the officer used a stun gun. Harper alleges he dropped to the ground and hit his head on the concrete. 

Harper alleges he got up and ran again before quickly tiring and stopping. McKinnon again used a stun gun, this time directly hitting Harper in the chest. 

Harper alleges he removed the stun gun barbs from his chest and panicked when he saw McKinnon approaching him. McKinnon allegedly attempted used a stun gun on Harper a third time. Harper feared McKinnon and put up his hands, hoping to avoid any further physical injury, according to the lawsuit. McKinnon allegedly then struck Harper in the head with his knee, chased him again, and kneed him again in the ribs. 

The complaint states Harper is 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighs 110 pounds, while McKinnon is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. 

After arresting Harper, the suit states Merced police charged him with assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun, despite Harper having nothing on him. 

Harper has requested a jury trial.

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of CaliforniaU.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Fresno Division