Suit filed on behalf of woman seen punched by California Highway Patrol officer

LOS ANGELES Thu Jul 17, 2014 8:41pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Attorneys filed a lawsuit on Thursday on behalf of a woman whose arrest was caught on video when a California Highway Patrol officer threw her to the ground beside a Los Angeles freeway and punched her, an incident that angered civil rights groups.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles accused Highway Patrol officials of violating 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock's civil rights by allowing the arresting officer to use excessive force.

The video of the July 1 arrest, which was captured by a passing motorist, drew wide attention after it was posted online and broadcast by news stations.

Before the arrest, a Highway Patrol officer spotted Pinnock walking shoeless along the shoulder of the freeway and stepping into traffic lanes, and he told her to stop, the Highway Patrol said in a statement earlier this month.

When the officer approached her, she became combative and he arrested her in fear of her safety and his own, the Highway Patrol said. The video shows the officer throwing Pinnock to the ground at the edge of the freeway, straddling her and punching her in the head.

The lawsuit filed on Thursday alleges the officer struck her between 10 and 15 times.

"The conduct was so beyond the pale, so vicious," said John Burris, one of her attorneys. "I've never had a case where a woman has been beaten in this manner by an officer.”

Kerri Rivas, a spokeswoman for the Highway Patrol, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Highway Patrol has launched an investigation into the videotaped arrest, and the arresting officer has been reassigned to office work during the investigation, she said.

Pinnock was hospitalized for evaluation after the incident, the Highway Patrol said earlier this month.

The lawsuit said she was transferred to a mental health facility after the video became widely viewed online. She remains hospitalized, said Burris, who could not say if she was receiving mental care.

Attorneys for Pinnock in their lawsuit also accused the Highway Patrol of improperly using a search warrant to obtain records from her interactions with attorneys and physicians, and of taking her shredded dress from the day she was arrested.

Local civil rights activists have expressed outrage at the videotaped arrest, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also raised questions about it.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis)

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