Homeless man punched and arrested by police in La Jolla files lawsuit alleging excessive force

Jesse Evans speaks during a news conference in May 2021.
Jesse Evans speaks during a news conference in May 2021, days after he was punched and arrested by San Diego police officers in La Jolla. Evans filed a lawsuit last week that alleges excessive force, among other claims.
(Kristian Carreon)

The May 2021 arrest of Jesse Evans was captured on video by a bystander and police body-worn cameras and prompted public outcry.


A homeless man with schizophrenia who was punched repeatedly by San Diego police officers two years ago during an arrest in La Jolla has filed a lawsuit alleging that the officers used excessive force and arrested him without legal grounds.

Jesse Evans also contends the Police Department repeatedly has failed to train and supervise officers on proper use of force and failed to discipline officers who use excessive force, among other claims.

The lawsuit, filed May 12 in federal court in San Diego, names Police Chief David Nisleit and Officers Victor Rodriguez and Mark Williams as defendants. Evans is seeking unspecified damages.

The Police Department said it does not comment about pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, Evans, then 34, was walking to the beach when he was arrested around 9 a.m. May 12, 2021, at a busy intersection near UC San Diego. During the incident, officers punched him on the face and legs as at least one onlooker recorded video.

It happened at 9 a.m. May 12 at La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road. Police say officers contacted the man about urinating in public.

The footage, shared online, sparked public outcry, and several community leaders rallied behind Evans, some of them saying the incident appeared to be racist. Evans is Black.

“It reeks of that to me,” said Michael McConnell, an advocate for San Diego’s homeless residents.

Police said at the time that officers saw Evans urinate in public. Evans has said he was about to urinate, but officers confronted him and he didn’t do it. He reiterates that in the lawsuit.

Evans was not arrested on suspicion of urinating in public. He was accused of resisting officers, but prosecutors declined to file any charges.

“I think the case speaks to a lot of systemic problems in our community,” said Marlea Dell’Anno, the attorney representing Evans. “I just think we’re still not doing an adequate job of interacting with people who have mental health issues in a way that doesn’t escalate [situations] unnecessarily.”

She also said the city needs more restrooms for the public, including the homeless community.

The attorney said Evans didn’t commit a crime and had a right to walk away. She said she wonders about the point of the encounter. “It wasn’t to help him,” she said. “It wasn’t to offer him services.”

The two options for people in his situation shouldn’t be to urinate on themselves or be beaten up by officers, Dell’Anno said.

According to the lawsuit, Evans suffered facial injuries that required stitches, which left permanent scars. He also experienced emotional and mental suffering, the lawsuit states.

The suit cites body-worn camera footage of the incident — portions of which police released nine days after the arrest.

San Diego police released body camera footage May 21 showing portions of a controversial arrest last week in La Jolla in which officers tackled and repeatedly punched a homeless Black man.

The video clip shows two officers pull over in a pickup near Evans as he faces vegetation along a sidewalk, with his back to passing vehicles.

“You can’t urinate in public, my man,” one of the officers tells Evans.

“Do you want me to piss my pants?” Evans asks. “What in the [expletive] is wrong with you?”

He then walks away and adds, “Stay the [expletive] out of my life.”

The officers then get back in the pickup and drive a short distance to Evans.

Another clip shows the officers going up to Evans as he walks in a crosswalk. “Leave me the [expletive] alone,” Evans tells the officers. “I don’t want to piss my pants. Leave me the [expletive] alone.”

One of the officers grabs Evans from behind and the other officer points a Taser at Evans and tells him to “stop resisting.”

The body-worn camera is largely obscured once Evans and the officers end up on the ground. The bystander video shows officers punching Evans repeatedly.

“I saw on video what everybody saw,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates. “A Black man being brutalized, being treated like he wasn’t a human. Being treated unjustly, all because he was allegedly urinating.”

The lawsuit does not claim racial discrimination but alleges the officers used excessive force and arrested Evans without probable cause.

Among other claims, the lawsuit alleges the Police Department has shown a pattern of failing to:

  • Properly train officers on the constitutional rights of the public and use of force, especially in encounters with people experiencing mental illness
  • Investigate officer misconduct, including excessive force
  • Enforce “adequate” policies related to use of force and civil rights

Police said at the time of the incident that it prompted an internal investigation to determine whether the officers violated department policies. An update was not available this week.
A new state law requires police agencies to make public investigative records of excessive force or unlawful arrests. Evans’ case is not among the batch of records the Police Department released to comply with the law, meaning the internal investigation likely determined the incident was not a case of excessive force or an unlawful arrest. ◆