U.S. Veteran Gets OK to Revive Suit Against Cops for Beating, Calling Him 'Fake American'

An Iraq War veteran can revive his lawsuit against the city of New Orleans and two former police officers, a federal appeals court ruled, according to the Associated Press.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on November 18 ruled in favor of Jorge Gomez, a U.S. native who served in the National Guard. Gomez, who was raised in Honduras, had been beaten by two off-duty officers who called him a "fake American" in 2018. Gomez in 2019 sued the city and the former officers, who were fired shortly after the incident. The lawsuit was initially dismissed after a judge said the city was not liable.

The court panel that reviewed the case had a different opinion. Judges Carl E. Stewart, James Ho and Kurt Engelhardt determined that the city of New Orleans was liable. The ruling is due to accusations that the officers told Gomez during the attack that they were on duty.

According to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, Gomez alleged that the officers ordered him not to leave the patio area of the bar. After the beating occurred, the duo allegedly told him to halt and identified themselves as officers when calling 911.

"These allegations are key," the court ruling said. "A victim usually does not follow orders from someone who just attacked him without good reason to do so. He is even less likely do so when—as alleged here—the victim was in the process of escaping his attackers."

Ho wrote a separate decision backing up the panel. He also referred to the city's involvement in the lawsuit as a "close case."

"If the allegations in this case are true, the officers have not merely brutalized one man—they have badly undermined public trust in law enforcement," he wrote. "And unfortunately, the misconduct alleged here is not unique."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Handcuffs and gavel
A New Orleans court ruled in favor of a Hispanic Iraq War veteran suing the city and two former police officers for a 2018 attack. Getty Images

Gomez was wearing fatigues and a beret. He said the officers, both of whom are white, questioned his military service before beating him outside.

Officer John Galman eventually pleaded guilty to simple battery, while Officer Spencer Sutton pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace.

However, U.S. District Judge Barry Ashe found that the city wasn't liable in the lawsuit because Sutton and Galman were nothing more than "private citizens in a bar fight."

Ho added that he was "happy" to reverse Ashe on the point.

In a statement, New Orleans police spokesperson Gary Scheets noted that the officers were quickly suspended.

"While NOPD cannot comment specifically on active litigation, the department's swift action related to the suspension and subsequent termination of these two officers is a clear statement that this sort of behavior was not, and will not be tolerated at NOPD," Scheets said.