SRJC student files lawsuit for alleged excessive force


Courtesy of Press Democrat

Gabbi Lemos graduating from Petaluma High School in 2015 as an all-star athlete and captain of her high school soccer team. Deputy Marcus Holton allegedly shoved Lemos’ face in her gravel driveway, causing bruising and lacerations.

Courtney Paige, Web Editor and Assistant A&E Editor

A newly released video showing the confrontation between a Santa Rosa Junior College student and a Sonoma County deputy sheriff is escalating the controversy surrounding allegations of excessive force.

The video sheds light on the altercation between Gabbi Lemos, 18, and Sonoma County Deputy Marcus Holton when he arrested her for resisting arrest after her graduation celebration June 13, 2015, in the front yard of her Petaluma home.

Sonoma County prosecutors shared the much-anticipated body camera video footage with all media outlets April 8. The videos are viewable on and include controversial jailhouse audio recordings between Lemos and her mother.

Lemos filed a lawsuit on Nov. 12 against the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department for excessive brutality. One day later, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office filed a misdemeanor charge against Lemos for resisting arrest.

In a court hearing April 4, prosecutors claimed the charge was simply a matter of coincidental timing. Lemos’ attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, contended the timing shows vindictive prosecution.

As deputies conducted a routine patrol the night of the arrest on Liberty Road in Petaluma, they heard a woman yelling as they pulled over to investigate a car and trailer on the road at the end of a driveway with hazard lights flashing.

Deputies found Lemos’ sister and her boyfriend sitting in the parked car, according to lawsuit documents.

Moments later, Lemos woke from her bed to bright flashing lights outside her window. She walked out of her home and down the driveway in her pajamas toward the commotion, court documents stated.

Lemos picked up the pace when she saw Holton pull her sister from inside the parked car in front of her house. The video shows Lemos saying, “Hey, you can’t just pull my sister out of the car like that. We have rights.”

The video shows the women at the scene arguing and yelling as Holton pushed Lemos from behind as she turned to walk toward her home. He then picked her up by the neck and threw her face first into the gravel driveway and handcuffed her.

The video also shows the deputy shoved his knee into her back and forced her face into the gravel as she and family members screamed for him to stop.

On June 6, 2015, Lemos was an all-star athlete, soccer team captain, and new Petaluma High School graduate. One week later, she was in the back of an ambulance with two black eyes, a swollen face and chunks of skin peeling off the top of her head. According to Lemos’ lawsuit, her injuries were the result of Holton using excessive force.

Lemos was taken to a hospital and later booked into the Sonoma County jail until her mother could make bail. Shortly after her release, Lemos returned to the hospital due to excessive swelling and skin abrasions. No others were arrested.

During her second trip to the hospital, a staff member asked if she’d like to document the incident, at which point the sheriff’s department dispatched another deputy to the hospital to file the report on her injuries, lawsuit documents stated.

The prosecution took five months to file misdemeanor charges against Lemos for the allegations. From June to November 2015, Lemos appeared in court four times before the prosecution charged her with resisting arrest, but not until after Lemos filed an excessive force civil suit against the county.

Judge Gary Medvigy read the evidence in court April 4 exposing email exchanges between deputy prosecutors Jenica Leonard and Juliette Hyde regarding their discussion on Oct. 7, 2015, that they would still need to speak to Holton about the allegations before making a decision to press charges against Lemos.

Judge Medvigy said in court April 4 Holton did not respond to Leonard until Nov. 12, 2015, according to email evidence.

Neither Leonard nor Hyde appeared in court April 4. Deputy District Attorney Chris Honigsberg appeared in their place.

“The prosecution’s defense is an issue of coincidental timing and therefore a vindictive prosecution claim is irrelevant,” Honigsberg said.

Prosecutors released the video to the court April 8 prior to sharing with the media, saying the goal for releasing the video is to overcome Schwaiger’s allegations of vindictive prosecution.

In court, Schwaiger said to the judge, “The evidence on file has been redacted to the point where they cannot decipher the details. The prosecution claims ‘privileged work-product rules’ and what we are talking about here is a girl’s life who has no previous arrests or criminal history.”

Medvigy said, “I want to see the evidence that changed the prosecution’s mind to file a formal misdemeanor charge against Miss Lemos.”

Medvigy said he wants to know if Holton’s body camera was the deciding factor the prosecution based its decision upon.

The prosecution also released a racially explicit audiotape of Lemos and her mother’s conversation while Lemos waited in jail for bail. The audio reveals Lemos’ mother, Michelle Lemos, referring to Holton as “a black piece of sh*t” and Gabbi Lemos using the “N-word” in reference to Holton.

The judge ruled he would review more evidence before making a decision. “There needs to be transparency,” Medvigy said. “This [body cam] evidence is significant.” 

The case is expected to continue for several months. The next set court date is April 13.