Newport Beach pays $360,000 settlement over a $16 cab ride that went awry
Woman collects money for wrongful arrest after police were called to intervene and she wouldn’t let them inside her home
Newport Beach police have turned a $16 cab ride into a $360,000 tab for city taxpayers. The city paid the money to settle wrongful arrest charges against police officers who allegedly picked up and rousted a woman.
Ashley Watts alleged in federal court papers that Newport Beach police Officers Christine Maroney and Monica Aguilar slammed her against the walls and floor of her apartment after she told them they could not enter. The cab company also paid $10,000 to settle the charges, said Watts’ attorney, Jerry Steering.
The ordeal began in the early morning of June 26, 2016, according to court documents. Watts, 34, was driven home by taxi from a hotel bar where she had been drinking with friends. She tried to pay the $16.70 fare with a credit card, but it was declined. Steering said in a press release that Watts had ordered a new card, but mistakenly tried to pay with the old one.
Watts asked the taxi driver if she could go to her apartment to get money for the fare, but he refused and called police. Officer Maroney arrived and threatened to take Watts to jail for defrauding an innkeeper unless she paid the fare, records say. The two officers ultimately agreed to escort Watts to her nearby apartment to obtain the money.
The officers began to follow Watts inside her apartment, but she objected. Maroney replied, “Then I’m just going to take you to jail.” The officers pushed Watts against a wall, causing her to hit her head. They kicked her legs out from under her, causing her to land on her knee, applied their body weight on top of her and handcuffed her, according to federal court documents.
Watts was taken to jail overnight. The next morning, she was released from custody and police called her a taxi, Steering said.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Steering said.
Watts still didn’t have any money, but that driver allowed her to go to her apartment and get the fare.
In October 2019, a federal appellate court ruled that the officers had qualified immunity on the excessive force allegation, but allowed the suit to proceed on the unlawful arrest.