Skip Torrance was sleeping alone in his bed when he felt someone yank at his boxers.
Torrance, 36, saw two dark silhouettes standing next to his bed. He heard two men say to get up and talk with them, or they would shoot him with a stun gun.
Torrance jumped out of bed. He walked toward his bedroom wall to turn on a light switch.
The men grabbed Torrance, who felt an “unbelievable” pain in his chest. He fell onto the floor.
“I thought that was it,” he said. “I thought I was going to be raped and robbed.”
Then, Torrance saw that the intruders were two sheriff’s deputies, one of whom had shot him with a stun gun.
“They were telling me I was the one involved in the fight in Laguna,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were talking about.”
Deputies Jose Pelayo and Jason Mann were wrong. Torrance was not the man involved in a fight earlier that night, Sept. 4, 2008, outside a Laguna Beach restaurant. After Torrance was detained in his Dana Point home, the victims were brought to see him. They said he wasn’t the man.
Deputies arrested Torrance anyway, alleging he cursed and lunged at them before he was shot with the stun gun. Torrance was taken to Orange County Jail and bailed out.
Orange County prosecutors later declined to criminally charge Torrance with resisting a peace officer, citing insufficient evidence.
Torrance, a commercial banker with no criminal record, decided to sue the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Laguna Beach Police Department, whose investigation led deputies to Torrance’s house.
He settled the lawsuit in October for $380,000. The county of Orange paid $300,000, while the city of Laguna Beach paid $80,000.
Torrance said he didn’t file the lawsuit for the money.
“I’m not happy about what I went through,” he said. “I don’t trust law enforcement anymore. If you’re in trouble with (police), who are you going to call? Like my friends told me, ‘If this can happen to me, living in a gated community in South County, it can happen to anyone.’”
For Torrance, it came down to being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
His wife was out of town, so Torrance decided to meet friends for dinner in Laguna Beach that night. He dressed casually, wearing sandals. Walking back to his car, he stubbed his toe on the curb and started cursing. Unbeknownst to him, a woman heard him cursing, and thought he looked suspicious. She copied the license plate number of his Subaru as Torrance drove away.
Nearby, Laguna Beach police were trying to find a man who had assaulted a woman after an argument outside the K’ya restaurant at Pacific Coast Highway and Cress Street.
The woman who observed Torrance gave officers his license plate number.
Laguna Beach police ran the plates, and traced the car to Torrance’s wife, and eventually to the couple’s home.
They asked sheriff’s deputies to detain Torrance, informing them that he might be driving under the influence and might have been involved in a misdemeanor battery incident, court records show.
While sheriff’s deputies rushed to Torrance’s home, Laguna Beach police continued their investigation and learned the fleeing suspect might have had a shaved head and been wearing a white shirt.
They radioed that information to sheriff’s deputies, who were under orders to simply “contact and possibly detain” Torrance, who was described by the woman as having dark hair, records show.
Torrance’s Newport Beach attorney, Jerry Steering, faults Laguna Beach police for telling sheriff’s deputies that the suspect might have been under the influence – without any evidence.
“Police think they are going to deal with a guy who is drunk or violent,” Steering said. “He’s neither.”
Deputies got to Torrance’s house and knocked on his front door, records show. After receiving no response, they went around to the backyard, where they found an open sliding glass door leading to a bedroom, where Torrance was lying face-down on his bed.
Deputies say they went into Torrance’s room to do a “welfare check” on him, court records show.
“They’re so concerned about his welfare, they tell him to get up or they’ll Tase him,” Steering said.
“Maybe he startled them by jumping about his bed,” he added. “But what do you think he was feeling? He had just been Tasered.”
Laguna Beach police and the city’s attorney on the case, Mark Austin, declined to comment.
The sheriff’s department, in a statement, said it “has conducted an extensive review of policy, procedure and training in all areas of Sheriff’s operations including Fourth Amendment search and seizure requirements and the use of the electronic control device,” since the September 2008 incident.
“The department has also implemented systems of review and accountability, which include the timely review of critical incidents, the identification of related issues or concerns, and the implementation of immediate corrective action where necessary,” the statement added.
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