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Couple: Modesto police were out of line in Fat Cat incident

A Modesto couple says police overreacted during a confrontation with partiers outside a downtown nightclub on July 4.

Susana Perez, 32, and her husband, Pete Vaa, 38, say officers "treated them like animals" when police responded to reports of unruly clubgoers at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge on 11th Street.

"They made it seem like we were going to start a riot with them, but it wasn't like that," said Perez.

Police say officers used crowd control measures because they were dealing with a large group.

After some clubgoers were ejected from the club and reportedly refused to leave the area, police arrested nine people. During the first few minutes of the 15-minute confrontation, officers were outnumbered by "uncooperative and confrontational" people, police said, many of whom were drunk.

Officers called for additional units. About 40 officers and deputies showed up. Officers wearing helmets and holding batons formed a "skirmish line" to move the crowd away from the Fat Cat.

Perez and Vaa were at the Fat Cat celebrating a friend's birthday. After a member of their group was thrown out of the club, Vaa said he went outside to try to "diffuse the situation."

Club security had asked police to intervene. Vaa said he told officers, "Hold up, I can solve the problem."

Vaa said he tried to grab a friend who had been ejected from the club in an effort to calm him down.

"Nobody wanted to go to jail that night," said Vaa. "It was my friend's birthday. I thought I had it under control until they started busting out the batons."

Police said Vaa was "very confrontational."

Vaa said he'd been drinking, but wasn't out of control. Officers used a Taser, K-9 dog and baton to subdue Vaa, who is a beefy 5 feet 4 inches tall and 215 pounds. Vaa was arrested on suspicion of interfering with the arrest of another clubgoer.

When Perez walked outside the club, she said she saw her husband lying on the sidewalk "in a pool of blood." Perez said she was the designated driver and drank no alcohol that night.

Perez said she asked an officer what was wrong, then tried to approach Vaa to check on him. Perez said the officer told her, "Back off, b----, back off. Go back to the Bay Area where you belong."

Perez said the officer pushed her, and she fell to her knees. She said she asked for the officer's name, but he refused to give it.

Perez said not all of her interactions with police were negative. She said an older officer who handcuffed her was "really nice." Another officer called her later in the evening to let her know that her husband was OK and that he was at a local hospital.

Vaa received treatment for injuries sustained during the confrontation before he was booked into jail.

But the officer who confronted Perez left her shaken, she said. "We're supposed to depend on police to take care of us and then they lay hands on us," said Perez. Perez said she plans to file a complaint.

Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said police will investigate any complaints.

He noted that officers didn't seek out the confrontation; police responded at the request of club security.

"This had the potential to be a larger incident and we're thankful that by the quick response of the officers that it didn't turn into something much larger," said Findlen. "There are reasons for the way we handle things the way we do, and a lot of them surround our desire to go home at night."

Police interventions at downtown clubs have been the subject of two recent lawsuits. In May, a San Jose man won a lawsuit claiming police used excessive force when they arrested him at the Palladium nightclub in 2005. In June, jurors rejected a Stockton woman's claim that police used excessive force when they arrested her at the Copper Rhino in 2007.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.


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