By Michelle Fitzsimmons
City News Reporter
Donna Deiss suffers from a bum hip, chronic depression, arthritis, a bad lower back, and bone spurs in her neck and left knee. On May 9, one more injury was added to her roster of disabilities — her right arm is broken.
Deiss, 60, had her right humerus arm bone broken by a Santa Cruz police sergeant as he was handcuffing her on that Friday evening.
At 4:51 p.m., Sgt. Christian La Moss of the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) pulled up to the Three Tree Lot on West Cliff Drive, a popular gathering spot for homeless people and transients. According to the police report, he was responding to reports of several people smoking marijuana in the parking lot.
La Moss approached the suspected drug users and requested identification. Reports differ on what followed.
“The report says that Deiss was with a group using drugs,” police spokesman Zach Friend said. “Sergeant La Moss asked her to stop moving [toward her RV], he identified himself as a police officer several times, and when he grabbed her arm to detain her she threw hot coffee into his face.”
La Moss wrenched Deiss’ arm behind her back to handcuff her. This is normal behavior when suspects are detained, Friend said.
Eyewitnesses such as Christine, a 21-year-old who requested to be identified only by her first name, said that La Moss used excessive force.
“He slammed her into a car, slammed her into her RV, then slammed her onto the ground,” Christine said.
“He pulled out this big stick, a really big baton, and he was yelling at everyone to back off,” Christine said. “No one was even moving but everyone was yelling that this is an old lady, she’s disabled, she can’t hear.”
The major contention is whether Deiss threw her coffee into the sergeant’s face, prompting the arrest.
Christine, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car Deiss was slammed into, said she saw the coffee splatter on the car and all over Deiss.
“Not one drop, not one drop, touched the officer,” Christine said.
Because this incident involves an elderly woman having a bone broken, the arrest is being investigated by Bob Aaronson, independent police auditor for the city of Santa Cruz.
“Deiss has not filed a formal complaint against the SCPD,” Aaronson said. “But my opinion is that the department and city need to investigate this incident regardless.”
Aaronson is attempting to locate Deiss so she can sign a request to release her medical information.
“X-rays and the type of fracture tend to reveal the nature of the break,” Aaronson said. “A fracture will reveal the actual mechanics of the break and knowing that will assist in determining whose recollection of the incident is more accurate.”
Whether this is a case of police brutality or an officer doing what he must to detain a reluctant suspect, Donna Deiss’ injury will affect her quality of life for years to come.
“She has to have someone drive her home around,” Christine said. “She will never be the same again.”