Denunzio Beats Phlebotomist in Fourth Amendment Challenge

Federal Judge Rules Blood Draw Was Unreasonable and Unsanitary

Tony Denunzio
Paul Wellman

Federal Judge George Wu kept alive Tony Denunzio’s federal lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Police Department and phlebotomist Lessor Michaels in connection with a violent DUI stop and a forcibly administered blood test, rejecting Michaels’s argument that he enjoyed qualified immunity from such allegations and that the blood draw conformed to Fourth Amendment search and seizure requirements. The case stems from the now well-known DUI traffic stop and takedown of Denunzio by Santa Barbara Police Officer Aaron Tudor on October 21, 2011. (Police claim Denuznio resisted; he claimed otherwise.) Denunzio was taken to County Jail where Michaels took a sample of his blood to determine sobriety. Denunzio and his attorney Darryl Genis contend the conditions of the blood draw room were unsanitary.

Genis described the room in his filing as “filthy and smelly and appeared to have blood, vomit, spittle and other unidentifiable detritus.” Denunzio insists he never refused the test, but he maintains he asked that it be done somewhere cleaner. Instead, he claims, he was thrown to the ground by two deputies, and Michaels jammed the needle into his arm without first disinfecting the area. Likewise, Genis objected that Michaels could have readily seen that Denunzio was badly injured, having sustained a broken nose and broken ribs as Officer Tudor sought to detain him. He also complained the officers could and should have used the Breathalyzer machine that was located in the same room to assess his client’s blood alcohol level.

In his ruling, Judge Wu waved off assertions by Michaels’s attorney that the blood draw was reasonably taken. Case law, he argued, establishes blood tests must be conducted in a sanitary fashion. The ruling hardly constitutes a final verdict for Denunzio in his case against City Hall, but it allows him to proceed with the complaint. Last year, a Santa Barbara jury wound up hung — 8-4 in favor of guilt — on whether Denunzio was guilty of driving under the influence. His attorney is seeking restitution and punitive damages for the physical and psychological damages Denunzio endured and loss of wages because Denunzio, a carpenter, was wrongly stripped of his license for three years. “We’re talking million and millions,” said Genis.


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