County Lawsuits

Sons of man killed in custody are suing county
Author:    JESSICA LOGAN, Californian staff writere-mail: 
Date: August 30, 2005 
Publication: Bakersfield Californian, The (CA)

The sonsof a man in jail who died after an altercation with detention deputies sued the county, the Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Mack Wimbish on Monday, saying the deputies didn't know how to handle the fight.

James W. Moore, 30, was arrested April 15 on suspicion of drug use and making criminal threats, but he was beaten by detention deputies that night while in custody and died six days later, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court, according to . . .,2232,REDD_17533_3940048,00.html

County settles death claim
Family of man who died in custody will get $390,000

By Tim Hearden, Record Searchlight
July 20, 2005

Shasta County has reached a $390,000 settlement with the family of a 23-year-old Redding man who died last year while in the custody of a sheriff's deputy. 

The amount is far less than the $1.4 million first sought by Songka Philapandeth, whose son, Khamhane Philapandeth, was asphyxiated during a struggle with former deputy Gregory Dean and security guards at Win-River Casino. 

The family settled for the lower amount to avoid a jury trial and be assured of a lump-sum payment rather than installments paid over years, said Chris Mathews, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the family. 

How they voted
Supervisors David Kehoe, Mark Cibula, Trish Clarke, Glenn Hawes and Linda Hartman voted unanimously Tuesday to: 

• Approve a $54,180 contract renewal with the Economic Development Corp. for business expansion, retention and recruitment. 

• Find that the Blue Jay Lane at Anderson Creek bridge replacement project will have no significant environmental impacts. 

• Appoint members to a committee studying financing options for the California Horse Park. 

"For a rural Northern California venue, we felt that this was an appropriate settlement," Mathews said Tuesday afternoon. "Obviously, nothing can compensate, but given the potential recovery in that venue and the ethnicity of the family and the ethnicity of a jury in that venue, overall it appears to have been the appropriate thing to have done since the family is looking for closure. 

"From a religious standpoint, closure is extremely important in the Southeast Asian culture," Mathews said. The family is Laotian-American. 

The county announced the settlement after the Board of Supervisors approved it Tuesday in closed session. Assistant County Counsel Mike Ralston said the deal "does not indicate any liability or guilt ... on behalf of the county. 

"This is one of those settlements that we entered into taking all of the facts of this situation into account, including the attendant costs of potential litigation and the vagaries of a potential trial down the line with a jury," Ralston said. 

The agreement will sap $250,000 from the county's general fund, while the rest will come from an insurance fund set up by the California State Association of Counties, County Administrative Officer Doug Latimer said. 

A burglary suspect, Khamhane Philapandeth died May 18, 2004, after being thrown to the ground and held to the floor, sprayed with pepper spray, and having his legs bent up against his back for several minutes, according to Shasta County Grand Jury transcripts. 

The struggle was captured on Win-River's security cameras. 

Dean, 36, was dismissed from his job and was indicted on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault by a public officer. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

He has a trial-readiness conference Friday with his involuntary manslaughter trial due to begin Tuesday. If convicted, Dean could receive penalties ranging from probation to four years and eight months in state prison, District Attorney Jerry Benito has said. 

Last fall, Songka Philapandeth filed a claim for $1,385,000 on her own behalf and $26,997 on behalf of the Estate of Khamhane Philapandeth. The claim included repayment for such costs as medical and funeral expenses, attorney's fees and the financial support her son would have provided her. 

The family also is in settlement negotiations with the Redding Rancheria, which operates Win-River. Mathews would not disclose the amount the family is seeking. Tribal attorney Tracy Edwards did not return calls Tuesday afternoon seeking comment. 

Songka Philapandeth could not be reached Tuesday for comment. 

Mathews said ethnic minorities typically have the best chance at "a fair trial" in places like Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles. 

"Obviously, had this been downtown Los Angeles and you had a black victim, you could anticipate a black jury," he said. "This is not the case here." 

Also, he said, local governments can structure verdicts in such a way that the plaintiff would receive a minimal amount each year. 

"This at least was a lump-sum, up-front payment," he said. 

Reporter Tim Hearden can be reached at 225-8224 or at .

Lucrative suit for local law firm 

Ace San Jose lawyer James McManis and his firm, McManis, Faulkner and Morgan, walked away with more than either of their two clients when Santa Clara County quietly settled their whistle-blower lawsuit over jail health care for a hefty $1.75 million. 

According to an agreement reached in November and approved by a federal judge in January, the county agreed to pay McManis and his firm $750,000 -- 43 percent of the total settlement. Mary Ann Save, a nurse and former county jail health care analyst, and Dr. Moneesha Pinto, a former jail health director, were to receive $500,000 each. 

McManis and his firm, you'll recall, have been under scrutiny by the state bar over their billing practices since six former clients complained they were over-billed. 

Save, Pinto and McManis have declined to comment because of a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement. But there's no indication the clients have a problem with McManis' share. And legal experts say it's not out of line -- attorneys typically take such cases for a 30 to 
40 percent share of the settlement. 

``Forty-three percent is a little on the high side but it's not outrageous,'' said Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane. 

Legal ethicist Diane L. Karpman of Karpman & Associates in Los Angeles agreed, noting that whistle-blower cases are difficult and a riskier investment of the attorney's time. 

Also interesting about the settlement is that it was reached two months after the county hired McManis and his firm to help its fight to build a music theater at the county fairgrounds over San Jose's wishes. But because county officials were aware they were being sued by McManis' firm in an unrelated case, legal experts see no harm. 

``You can't represent both sides in the same case, but that's not what's happening here,'' Keane said. ``They would just have to disclose it and get the permission of the county. I don't think it rises to any impropriety.''

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - 

A former elementary school teacher who was jailed and beaten by inmates before his acquittal on child molestation charges is getting a $350,000 settlement from Orange County. 

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved settling their portion of a lawsuit filed by Jerome Wilhoit, 43, of Aliso Viejo. Wilhoit sued Santa Ana for false arrest and Orange County for failing to protect him from being beaten. 

Supervisors agreed to pay him $350,000. Settlement talks continue with Santa Ana. 

Wilhoit was charged in 1998 with sexually molesting three students at Wallace R. Davis Elementary School. Within 12 hours of his incarceration, he was beaten by four inmates at Orange County Jail, where he spent 3 1/2 weeks. 

A jury acquitted Wilhoit in 1999. Fourteen months later he was further exonerated when an Orange County judge declared Wilhoit "factually innocent" of all charges and ordered all records expunged. 

"It's just wonderful to see justice served and to kind of be able to close this chapter of life," said Wilhoit, who is now a clergyman and private music teacher.

Wed, Feb. 23, 2005 
County paid $1.75 million in jails' health care lawsuit

By John Woolfolk
Mercury News

Santa Clara County has quietly paid $1.75 million -- one of its largest legal settlements ever -- to resolve a federal lawsuit by a doctor and nurse who said they were driven from their jobs after complaining about health care practices at the county jails.

The suit -- alleging inmates were given substandard and possibly illegal health care -- prompted a review of jail health care that county officials maintain is a model. But complaints continue, including one sparked by an inmate death in January that remains under investigation.

In the 2003 suit, Mary Ann Save, a nurse and former senior health care analyst for the county's jails and juvenile detention centers, and Dr. Moneesha Pinto, a former jail health director, claimed the county violated their free-speech rights by demoting them after they raised concerns.

County officials had not announced a settlement in the case, formally dismissed Jan. 3. But they confirmed the $1.75 million figure Tuesday. Save and Pinto were unavailable for comment. Their attorney, James McManis, said he could not discuss the case.

In response to the allegations, the county ordered a $100,000 county review of its jail medical practices. The resulting April 2004 report concluded that ``care is at an enhanced level compared to most other jail systems and to the outside community,'' and that the system is one of the state's best.

County Executive Peter Kutras said concerns raised in the lawsuit have either been fixed or deemed unfounded.

``We retained outside experts to come in and look at our jail medical practices,'' Kutras said. ``They validated that we do have quality health care being delivered.''

But relatives of inmates who have died in custody remain concerned about the county's care for people entirely dependent upon their jailers for access to doctors and medicine.

On Jan. 21, Raina Benavidez, 49, a San Jose technician who was serving a nine-month sentence on a probation violation at the Elmwood women's jail, died of sepsis from an acute abdominal infection, according to her death certificate. An autopsy report is pending.

Benavidez suffered alcohol-related liver disease, but her daughter said she had complained about her health to the jail nurses for weeks to no avail, and that her death could have been prevented. Benavidez had filed an inmate grievance form Dec. 30 stating: ``Appt. for doctor was denied to me . . . need to see a liver specialist before I die here.''

``I wonder how they sleep at night knowing they refused the medical attention my mother needed to survive,'' said Benavidez's daughter, Josette Hatcher of Morgan Hill.

Hatcher's complaint is similar to one by the family of Gilbert Rael, a 31-year-old Morgan Hill house painter who died April 4, 2003, of an acute bacterial infection from a festering toothache while incarcerated at Elmwood. His death was cited by Save and Pinto in their claim and is the subject of a pending lawsuit on behalf of his 12-year-old son.
In their lawsuit, Save and Pinto alleged that:

• Because of a physician shortage, jail nurses were giving out medication without proper supervision by doctors, a practice the suit described as ``extremely dangerous'' and a possible violation of the state's Nursing Practice Act.

• County officials refused to consider a dialysis clinic inside the jail that would have avoided sending inmates with kidney problems to the county hospital for treatment because the county wanted to maintain a scheme of illegally billing Medi-Cal for the procedure.

• Inmates were not given timely examinations at the psychiatric ward, where documentation and treatment plans were substandard.

• Medical records were in disarray. Save had proposed an electronic medical record system, but was told to delete a statement in a contractor's proposal questioning the ``legality and ethicality'' of nursing procedures because her bosses feared it could invite litigation.

The suit cited a number of inmate deaths and injuries around the time it was filed in 2003.

Save was first hired in 1999 and named senior health analyst in 2000. Pinto was hired in 2001 as a doctor at adult custody health care and named medical director in 2002.

Save was demoted in March 2003, and her security clearance was revoked, the suit said. Pinto was fired as medical director for the jails in July 2003.

While the county Department of Correction runs the jails, inmate health care is overseen by the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System. Bob Sillen, executive director of that agency, had been named in the lawsuit and had called the allegations ``outrageous'' and ``fictitious'' when it was filed. Sillen did not return a reporter's phone call Tuesday.

Kutras said the county-commissioned report by San Francisco workplace consulting firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum Advance Strategies did not find problems with jail nursing or other health practices. The report said that ``in no case did our team find reason to question the quality of care,'' which they added ``measures up well against mandated standards of both other jails and the community.''

Kutras said the alleged concerns about Medi-Cal billing stemmed from poor record-keeping and communication that has since been corrected.

Contact John Woolfolk at  or (408) 278-3410.,1,3281431.story

Disparity Found in Sheriff's Lawsuits 
Many recent settlements for $100,000 or more did not result in discipline of L.A. County deputies or a change in agency's policies, report shows. 
By Jack Leonard Times Staff Writer 

February 18, 2005 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has paid hefty settlements in recent years in civil cases in which deputies were not disciplined, suggesting that internal affairs investigators "let an officer off the hook when a judge or jury would not," according to a new report. 

Of 29 cases settled for $100,000 or more in the last five years, eight resulted in discipline or a department policy change, Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the county Board of Supervisors, wrote in the report, to be released today. 

In one case settled for $375,000, a 110-pound woman was pushed into the hood of a patrol car, chipping two teeth and fracturing her jaw. The woman had interfered with deputies when they stopped her cousin in Compton, mistakenly believing that the cousin was a burglary suspect, Bobb wrote. 

In a case settled for $150,000, deputies who wrestled with a woman holding her 14-month-old daughter struck the woman in the face before she fell or was pushed through a glass coffee table, Bobb wrote. The deputies said they had been worried that the mother was hysterical and clutching the girl around the neck too tightly. In both cases, internal affairs investigators found that the use of force was within policy, Bobb wrote. 

Such disparities between settlements and discipline, a historical problem for the department and other police agencies, fuel "the fire of those who would strip the sheriff of the privilege of investigating and disciplining his own employees," Bobb wrote. 

But sheriff's officials Thursday said they rely on hard facts to decide whether wrongdoing occurred. In deciding whether to settle a lawsuit, however, they must weigh the possibility that a jury will be swayed by emotions. 

"Civil suits are not just about facts but jurors' feelings about the facts," said Sheriff's Chief Bill McSweeney, who oversees internal affairs, training and risk management. "Police managers need more than a feeling to discipline officers. They need evidence that is persuasive that misconduct occurred." 

Despite his own criticism, Bobb wrote that he was optimistic the department was moving in the right direction. Many of the incidents leading to the 
29 cases occurred before the creation of the county's Office of Independent Review, which oversees internal affairs probes. 

That office is now monitoring these types of cases, among others, improving the chance that deputies will be disciplined for conduct that leads to large settlements, Bobb said. The office oversaw three of the 29 internal affairs cases. In two of those, the department did impose discipline. 

Bobb, a Los Angeles lawyer, started issuing semiannual reports on the Sheriff's Department in 
1993. This, his 19th, also praised McSweeney and his Risk Management Bureau, citing its aggressive efforts to settle legitimate claims fast and fight dubious ones as the reason for a large reduction in litigation costs last year. In fiscal 2004, the department spent $5.6 million to resolve lawsuits, compared with more than $10 million in each of the previous two years. 

At the same time, Bobb wrote, the department has tried to learn from cases in which it has paid out hefty settlements. 

In 2002 and 2003, the Board of Supervisors approved $2.9-million settlements in two cases involving illegal strip searches of jail inmates before their arraignment. Since then, Bobb said, the department has tightened its policies on strip searches. 

His report offered measured praise for the department's decision to draw up a new policy limiting foot pursuits. But Bobb described the policy as too vague to ensure that violators were disciplined and criticized the department for not mandating training on the new procedures. 

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which represents most rank-and-file deputies in the department, has long rejected arguments that foot chases are inherently dangerous and called on the department to leave decisions about when to chase up to deputies.

Rapist's suit against county gets go-ahead
By Andy Furillo -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A sexually violent predator will be allowed to press a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sacramento County under an appellate court's ruling Monday that "purgatory cannot be worse than hell."
Oscar W. Jones, a twice-convicted rapist, sued the county and its sheriff, Lou Blanas, in December 2000 over the conditions of the inmate's confinement in the county jail in 1998 and 1999.

Jones already had completed a prison sentence on his most recent rape conviction and was awaiting a hearing to determine whether the state could hold him beyond his release date as a sexually violent predator.

With his hearing pending, Jones charged, among other things, that he was strip-searched unreasonably, blocked from practicing his religion and denied access to the courts.

The case was tossed in September 2002 on the grounds Jones was late in filing his lawsuit.

In its ruling Monday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a "civil detainee" such as Jones who exhibits a good-faith pursuit of his claims, as a matter of fundamental practicality and fairness, isn't barred by the statute of limitations.

Ordering the matter back to federal court in Sacramento, the appellate panel cited previous case law as holding that civil detainees such as Jones could not be subjected to jail conditions that are worse than anything they would face if they were committed to an institution.

"Or, to put it more colorfully," the appellate court said, "purgatory cannot be worse than hell."

The appellate panel found that the trial court in Sacramento also abused its discretion in denying Jones' discovery motions, incorrectly allowed the county to punitively detain the inmate and failed to consider evidence that might have established Jones' claim that he had been prevented from communally practicing his Christian religion.

The appellate panel ruled against Jones in determining that his access to the courts was never blocked. Still, in sending the case back to Sacramento, the panel ordered the federal court to appoint a lawyer to represent Jones, who had filed the action on his own behalf.

Jones, whose age isn't known, is still confined at Atascadero State Hospital as a sexually violent predator, according to his attorney.

First convicted of rape in Los Angeles County in 1978, Jones was released from prison in 1982, according to Department of Corrections records.

He picked up his second rape conviction in Sacramento County in 1986 and was sentenced to 17 years in state prison, records show. He served eight years but after release was returned to prison three times on parole violations.

While Jones was incarcerated at the California Correctional Center in Susanville on the last of his parole violations, prison officials transferred him to the Sacramento County jail in December 1997.

In Sacramento, state authorities moved to detain Jones beyond his August 1998 parole date under the Sexually Violent Predator Act. The 1996 law allows authorities to detain sexually violent predators for mental health treatment beyond their release dates.

Jones' probable-cause hearing under the act wasn't concluded until December 1999, and he wasn't transferred to Atascadero until early 2000. It was while that hearing was pending and Jones was being held in the Sacramento County jail that he claims his rights were violated.

Darrell Fruth, the San Francisco attorney who represented Jones on his appeal, welcomed Monday's ruling, saying, "I think the most important thing here is the court's recognition that you can't treat civil detainees worse than criminal detainees."

"He was held there (in Sacramento) for two years and he hadn't been accused of any crimes," Fruth said. "He wasn't allowed to do a lot of things that even people accused of crimes are able to do."

David A. Melton, the private attorney retained by the county to fight the appeal, said he was disappointed by the 9th Circuit panel's opinion. He said the county may appeal to the full 9th Circuit or possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We believe the 9th Circuit opinion may have inadvertently granted greater rights to sexually violent predators than the law intended," Melton said.

About the writer:
The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or

LAPD Beating Victim Sues City, Community Rallies In Support 

The Final Call, News Report, 
Charlene Muhammad , Aug 09, 2004

LOS ANGELES ( - The Black motorist who was beaten by several Los Angeles Police Department Officers (LAPD) June 23, following a high-speed chase in Compton, filed a claim July 15 against the city of Los Angeles for $25 million in damages. 

Stanley Miller has suffered brain damage, spinal injuries, trunk-torso injuries, internal injuries, emotional distress, and bruises and contusions, the claim charges. If rejected, he could file a lawsuit.

Mr. Miller’s claim cites LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, Assistant Chief George Gascon and the other six officers at the scene of the beating: Michael O’Connor, David Hale, Peter Bueno, Todd Behrens, Andrew Moody and Sgt. Angela McGee. 

A news helicopter’s footage revealed the subdued, suspected car thief being pummeled with a long, metal flashlight 11 times by LAPD Officer John Hatfield. He was also kneed and kicked, although he was not resisting.

The incident prompted an investigation by the LAPD, the FBI, the L.A. District Attorney’s Office, and Office of the Inspector General. All of the officers are on paid administrative leave, pending investigation results.

The beating, coupled with the surfacing of yet another video depicting the police beating of Curtis Gibson, who is also Black, at a residential party June 19, has further strained the historical relationship of racial violence and oppression between the LAPD and Blacks. A July 2 LAPD press release detailed Mr. Gibson’s assault by members of its 77th Street Division’s “Operation Sanctuary” gang suppression unit.

Community residents, activists, and religious and political leaders have responded by forming their own oversight commission—the Community Coalition on Police Abuse—and holding a bevy of rallies, press conferences and “flashlight vigils.” The latest was a Leimert Park town hall meeting and rally July 10 at the Vision Theater.

“We’re continuing to meet on what we think needs to be a serious policy change, how the police do business, how they deal with the arrests of African Americans. We know it’s based on color, because we’ve seen recently where a White motorist had a gun to his head but, when apprehended, they never beat or put their hands on him,” stated coalition member and Western Regional Minister Tony Muhammad. 

The coalition has set a 10 point agenda, which includes opening the current investigation to the public, developing alternative ways of dealing with police abuse, reviewing Chief Bratton’s views and current policies and the community’s relationship to them, and the prohibition of the LAPD’s use of flashlights as a tool of submission.

The group also includes Los Angeles Sentinel publisher and Brotherhood Crusade Executive Director Danny Bakewell; Lillian Mobley of the South Central Senior Citizens Center/Mothers In Action; Jim Brown of Amer-I-Can; and Dr. Maulana Karenga of the US Organization/African American Cultural Center, among others.

At the meeting, attended by over 500 people, including Police Commission President David S. Cunningham III and Inspector General Andre Birotte Jr., the coalition also addressed their concerns over Chief Bratton’s recent statements labeling Blacks as tribal thugs, terrorists and the face of crime in L.A. 

“It is important that we realize just the power of what words are when we send images in the city of L.A. or within the police department,” 8th District Councilman Bernard C. Parks pointed out. “The first step of dehumanizing people is to call them names, and in calling them names, it gives people license to treat them unfairly.” 

A 38-year LAPD veteran, Mr. Parks, who recently announced his bid for the mayor’s seat, said the community must funnel its efforts into prevention. 

“If we can show up in this number about this issue, we should also be able to show up in this number when our kids don’t get a book at school, when our kids don’t graduate, because there’s a certain hopelessness in our community and it’s too late to march at the homicide scene,” he stated. 

Min. Tony concurred. “We’re hoping that Chief Bratton and the mayor’s office would work with us on training, not just for police, but the community needs sensitivity training, too, where we need to stop the Black-on-Black killing. The community needs reforming, as well as police,” Min. Tony stated.

In an interview following a July 14-15 LAPD high-level enforcement conference on gang violence, which included law enforcement agencies, researchers, academics and expert panelists from Harvard University and the Department of Justice, Chief Bratton shunned the racist charge, and stated that he works well with people of all communities, especially Blacks, whom he deems most victimized by gang violence and crime.

Mr. Bakewell, while commending Inspector Birotte for his efforts, noted that the coalition was established as another process whereby Blacks can attain justice. 

“We don’t agree with the process that is in place. We don’t believe that it comes out fairly on behalf of Black people. We think Bro. Birotte is doing a good job on what he is challenged to do, but we think the process is flawed,” he said. 

He maintained that the Commission is driven by justice and unity. Rightfully so, as these have proven successful before. 

In 1998, the community forced the shutdown of the United Paramount Network’s (UPN) sitcom, “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfieffer,” which depicted a Black Englishman who was kidnapped from his castle in England and taken to America, where he became a servant to President Abraham Lincoln. 

Now, they are poised to battle Chief Bratton’s name-calling, because they believe the statements and mindset which harbor them lead to the devaluation and disrespect of Black life. The coalition also contends that the persistent, widespread pattern is not simply the practice of a few rogue cops. 

“It evokes the sense of an ongoing, racialized pattern of abuse directed towards the African American community, whether through continued police profiling, shootings and killings, or the numerous mistaken and gratuitous home invasions, purportedly looking for profiled suspects,” stated Seba Chimbuko Tembo, who represented Mr. Karenga at the rally. Although Chief Bratton issued an extensive public apology to Blacks on KJLH Radio’s popular Saturday morning show, “L.A. Speaks Out With Jacquie Stephens,” it had little effect. 

Soon after his appointment as the city’s 54th police chief in October 2002, he drew heat from community leaders when he compared L.A. street gangs to the Mafia, an organized crime family. Community activists condemned both the errant actions and root causes of gang life, and rebuked the police chief’s equating them to the well-financed and politically connected Mafia families. 

During the town hall meeting, panelists, like Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gilbert C. Alston, presented information to the audience, including playback slides of the Miller beating. Generally, stated Judge Alston, if LAPD policies are followed, there would be little community uprising, however, some change is necessary.

He believes that officers should be driven by a code of honor, not a code of silence. He said police brutality is not a conspiracy, but rather “a response to engrained habit patterns, which are learned and can be unlearned or controlled, as long as you recognize you have the habit or disability.”

Other panelists were Brenda Marsh-Mitchell (Mothers In Action), Lillian Mobley (Mothers In Action & Grandma’s Hands), Rev. Leonard Jackson (First A.M.E. Church), Rev. Roy Petit (The Black Agenda), Khalid Shah (Stop the Violence Increase the Peace Foundation), Rev. Ron Wright (New Vision Church of Jesus Christ) and Bobby Anderson (New Frontier Democratic Club). 

After the nearly three-hour meeting, participants gathered at Leimert Park’s popular fountain for a peaceful rally against verbal and physical police abuse. The demonstrators also celebrated their unity against the injustices with dance and song.,1413,295~30195~2378402,00.html

September 03, 2004 


Lawsuit settled in inmate's suicide at Yolo County jail

By The Associated Press

A lawsuit over a Yolo County jail inmate's suicide was settled for $840,000, most of which will be paid by a contract health care provider accused of inadequately staffing the jail.California 
Forensic Medical Group Inc., based in Monterey, will pay $825,000, and Yolo County will pay the remaining $15,000.The lawsuit was filed by the estranged wife and family of Stephen Morton Achen, a 32-year-old inmate who committed suicide in the jail. Family members said Achen didn't receive adequate care during his 10 days of incarceration.Achen, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, hanged himself in the Monroe Detention Facility in Woodland in August 2000, using a sheet tied to a bed in his cell.

He had been arrested by Davis police on suspicion of corporal injury to a girlfriend.Because he had a history of mental illness and had attempted suicide two weeks earlier, Achen was initially, but briefly, placed on suicide watch. Court papers demonstrate Achen struggled with being locked up, did not receive prescribed psychotropic medications for a number of days, and showed a 
heightened level of anxiousness on the day of his death.In March, U.S. District Judge David F. Levi found enough evidence on the staffing issue to warrant a jury trial.

The judge concluded that Achen's family "offered sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the county has a practice of medical understaffing."The jail has since increased the number of 
hours a psychiatrist is available to inmates, and has improved communication between jail officers and medical staff and training so correction officers can better handle mentally ill inmates, said 
Sheriff's Capt. Tom Lopez.,1,2473041.story

Family of Strangled Inmate Seeks $35 Million From L.A. County
By David Rosenzweig
Times Staff Writer

June 24, 2004

The family of a Los Angeles County Jail inmate, who was strangled in his cell while waiting to testify as a key witness in a murder trial, filed a $35-million federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Sheriff's Department.

Raul Tinajero, 20, a convicted car thief, was found dead on his cot in the downtown Los Angeles jail on April 20, five weeks after a judge ordered that he be kept in protective custody.

Because of apparent security lapses, the suspect against whom Tinajero was to testify came into the young man's cell and strangled him, authorities said.

The federal lawsuit accuses Sheriff Lee Baca and the department of violating Tinajero's civil rights, failing to properly supervise the jailhouse staff, negligence and other acts of official misconduct. The suit seeks $30 million in damages on behalf of Tinajero and his estate, and $5 million for his mother, Silvia.

The Sheriff's Department had no immediate comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.

Tinajero is one of five inmates who have been killed since October in the overcrowded county jail, which houses about 7,000 inmates. 

Inmate Santiago Pineda, 23, of Long Beach, has been charged with Tinajero's killing.

Judge sides with ex-clerk in prison harassment suit 
By Jess Sullivan 

FAIRFIELD -- A Solano County Judge awarded a former mailroom clerk at California State Prison, Solano, $45,000 for the sexual harassment she endured from male coworkers over a period of six months.

The judgment for Cristina Hall also included Judge Paul L. Beeman's opinion that prison administrators didn't appropriately or adequately investigate her complaints about harassment by five guards.

Beeman's award to Hall included $35,000 for her emotional distress and suffering and $10,000 for lost wages.

Testimony during a court trial in March included Hall recalling an incident in which a guard allegedly told Hall "she looked so innocent, it was fun to harass her just to see how scared she would get."

According to some of the testimony during the trial, correctional officers would go through inmate mail, looking for pornographic pictures and routinely displaying and commenting on magazine pictures to Hall while making obscene comments and jokes.

"Her coworkers reviewed (pornography) just to satisfy their own prurient interest," Beeman's opinion stated.

Other guards made repeated off-color remarks about Hall's clothing and her body and Hall routinely worked with guards who were put onto the mailroom because of discipline problems. One guard was described by Hall's supervisor as a "sexual pervert" whom she "felt strange around."

Beeman's judgment exonerated Warden Thomas L. Carey, whom Hall claimed wasn't responsive to her complaints.

Jess Sullivan can be reached at 427-6919 or .

$15 million deal on jail searches
By Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton -- Bee Staff Writers - (Published June 5, 2004)

In the largest settlement in the history of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, officials agreed Friday to pay up to $15 million to resolve lawsuits over strip searches at the county jail.

The agreement, which will cost the cash-strapped county $2 million and two of its insurance carriers $13 million, could affect more than 16,000 people strip-searched at the jail between March 14, 2000, and June 6, 2003.

"This practice was ruled unconstitutional as early as 1984, yet there seemed to be no attempt to conform to the law," said attorney Mark Merin, who filed the suits. "People were stripped naked and dehumanized before arraignment. It was standard procedure."

The settlement, which still must be approved by the court, stems from state and federal lawsuits Merin filed after six environmental demonstrators were arrested at the state Forestry Board office on March 14, 2000, and jailed on misdemeanor charges.

All six were subjected to visual body-cavity searches - commonly called strip searches - as part of the booking process, and were searched in front of each other.

It was later discovered that such searches were routinely videotaped, a practice which has been discontinued.

Those protesters and a seventh plaintiff who had been jailed on a misdemeanor battery charge filed a suit naming the county and Sheriff Lou Blanas as defendants, saying such searches were grossly inappropriate for people accused of minor crimes.

"Things that happen in jail have gone largely uninvestigated," Merin said. "It was only because these political activists got caught up in the system that we were able to take a look at this nightmare."

The Sheriff's Department fought the suit vigorously, accusing Merin of seeking to line his own pockets and noting that most counties in the state used such searches to ensure that weapons and other contraband are not smuggled into jails.

"Our number one concern has been the safety of the institution, the safety of the officers and even the safety of the inmates themselves," said David Lind, a department chief deputy and attorney, in an interview Friday.

But the department's efforts to fight the suit began to unravel in January 2003, when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Cecil ruled that people jailed on minor charges and strip-searched over a four-year period were entitled to $1,000 each.

The ruling stunned sheriff's officials, who changed their strip-search policies later that month.

Under the new policy, only prisoners being booked on charges involving violence, weapons or drugs may be subjected to visual body-cavity searches, and those searches must be conducted out of sight of other inmates and arrestees.

Two months after Cecil's ruling, Merin followed up with a more sweeping suit in U.S. District Court, and the agreement revealed Friday will settle both cases.

The agreement still must be approved by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard Park, and creates a multi-tiered system of payments to each person ranging from $1,000 on up.

People who were under 21 or over 60, for instance, or women who were pregnant when searched, could receive up to $3,500.

The settlement also indicates some of the searches involved humiliating tactics: It provides extra payments for people who were forced to jump or dance during the searches or who were subjected to "nasty jokes."

Higher awards can be made for inmates who sought therapy afterward or for other special cases.

The seven original plaintiffs will split $410,000 from a fund of $11.5 million set aside for payments to class members.

Another $3 million will go to Merin, and $500,000 will be set aside to pay the administrative costs of the claims process.

The settlement calls for the county to pay $2 million of the total.

County officials already have filed a claim for $2 million with the state Board of Corrections, saying the board certified the jail's strip-search procedures biannually for decades.

"This whole thing was a good-faith error of policy," Lind said.

The board did not respond to a request for comment.

The deal is believed to be by far the highest payout by the department to dispose of a legal challenge.

The next-highest that officials could recall was an $850,000 settlement involving misuse of the department's "prostraint chair," a device designed to subdue unruly prisoners.

The original strip-search suit resulted in many counties statewide changing their policies to reflect Cecil's ruling that only arrestees accused of crimes involving drugs, weapons or violence could be strip-searched.

In the Sacramento County jail, officials now use metal detectors to ensure that weapons are not being smuggled in, but Lind said he is certain that drugs and other forbidden items are making their way into the jail.

"We are confident that there's more contraband coming into the jail, unfortunately, of a non-metal nature," Lind said.

Final approval of the deal is scheduled for mid-October, following distribution of claim forms to as many affected individuals as can be located. The county will run newspaper ads notifying people they may be eligible for payment.

Merin estimated that as few as one out of four people eligible may seek payments.

Meanwhile, he is pursuing similar lawsuits in San Francisco and San Mateo County, and soon will file in Marin County.

He also is suing Dade County, Fla., for strip searches of women protesters at a world trade conference.

The Bee's Denny Walsh can be reached at (916) 321-1189 or

$1m settlement ends false-arrest case 

Maria Munoz of Firebaugh was jailed 14 hours.

By Jerry Bier
The Fresno Bee 

(Updated Wednesday, March 10, 2004, 7:43 AM)

Lawyers for a Firebaugh woman awarded $625,000 by a federal court jury after she was falsely arrested by Fresno County sheriff's deputies in a case of mistaken identity said Tuesday the case has been settled for $1 million.

The total includes attorneys' fees in the lawsuit filed by Maria Munoz, who spent 14 hours in custody Sept. 20, 2002, despite her protests that the deputies had arrested the wrong woman.

Following a jury verdict in November, Munoz's lawyers filed documents with the federal court in Fresno demanding $623,897 in legal fees.

The settlement was announced after several months of negotiations and also ends appeals in the case.

"I'm glad this is over," Munoz said in a written statement. "If I can help even one woman, the pain and pressure of the trial would have been worth it."

Munoz, a small woman who suffers from a variety of health problems, including diabetes and a weak heart, had wept during her time on the witness stand and while listening to testimony about her ordeal.

Arturo J. Gonzalez, one of her attorneys, said the county never offered to settle the case before trial.

"Everyone agrees that our client was pleading with officers, telling them they had the wrong woman," Gonzalez said, "yet no one ever bothered to compare her fingerprints with the wanted woman. Jail officials testified it would have taken 'about a minute' to compare prints. Hopefully, next time they will do so."

Gonzalez, who represented Munoz with fellow San Francisco lawyers Robert Y. Chan and Sylvia M. Sokol, said the county already has paid the settlement, which is believed the largest ever for a wrongful arrest case.

James J. Arendt, one of the lawyers representing the county, said an appeal might have been worth pursuing.

"But in light of the jury's finding and the cost of an appeal and possibly having to retry the case, the settlement made the most sense to us," Arendt said.

Munoz was arrested shortly after 9 a.m. at her Firebaugh home by deputies searching for a woman wanted on suspicion of drug violations and of illegally receiving Social Security benefits. Munoz had never been in trouble with the law.

Despite her protests, deputies concluded she was the woman -- Maria Herrera -- they were looking for, cuffed Munoz's hands behind her back and eventually took her to jail in Fresno. There, she was forced to undergo a strip search and was denied her medications until her release 14 hours later, which was granted because of jail crowding.

The deputies had a DMV photo of the woman they were looking for who, as it turned out, also was not the actual suspect in the case. The real Maria Herrera, whose maiden name was Maria Munoz, was living in Fresno. Charges against her were eventually dropped.

The only apparent reason Munoz's Firebaugh address was in the county's computer system was because she and her husband, Angel, reported a vehicle burglary in 1994, when tools were stolen from his truck while they were in church.

Gonzalez and Chan have won a series of high-profile cases against law enforcement agencies in the Valley, including a $1.45 million verdict in 1993 for four women who were subjected to an unlawful strip search after attending a meeting of the Dinuba school board.

The reporter can be reached at  or 441-6484.

Jerry Bier of the Fresno Bee has been doing an exceptional job!  Thank him.

$625,000 awarded in arrest mistake 
Valley woman's rights were violated in arrest, strip search, jury finds. 
By Jerry Bier
The Fresno Bee
(Published Tuesday, November 18, 2003, 5:25 AM)

Maria Munoz, a small woman with a weak heart, was awarded $625,000 by a federal jury Monday for the 14 hours she spent in custody after being arrested by Fresno County sheriff's deputies in a case of mistaken identity. 
Munoz, who had wept openly on the witness stand while recalling her arrest, was not present when the verdicts in her favor were read, but arrived at the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Fresno shortly after they were announced. 

Though she speaks little English, she said through her lawyer Arturo Gonzalez that if the trauma of her two-week trial prevents one woman from having to go through what she had to, it's worth it. 

"She feels like someone listened to her, and she feels she got justice," Gonzalez added. 

Munoz was arrested early Sept. 20, 2002, at her Firebaugh home by sheriff's deputies searching for a woman wanted on suspicion of drug violations and of illegally receiving Social Security benefits. Munoz had never been in trouble with the law. 

Despite her protests, deputies concluded she was the woman -- Maria Herrera -- they were looking for, cuffed Munoz's hands behind her back and eventually took her to jail in Fresno. There, she was forced to undergo a strip search and was denied her medications until her release 14 hours later, which was granted because of jail crowding. 

The $625,000 is believed to be among the largest individual damage amounts awarded by a federal jury for a case involving an illegal strip search, Gonzalez said. 

"I think it is very important to send a message to all law enforcement agencies in all of our communities that if you are going to send people out to make an arrest, it's very important that they make sure they know who they are arresting -- especially if you are dealing with someone like this," Gonzalez told reporters, gesturing to the tiny, 59-year-old Munoz standing next to him. 

The whole case was "much ado about nothing," Gonzalez said, adding that deputies were working off an 11-year-old warrant. 

"We were able to find the real Maria Herrera," Gonzalez said, "and she still lives in Fresno. I found her easy. When she learned they were looking for her, she went to court and the judge dismissed the case." 

The wanted Herrera, whose maiden name was Maria Munoz, was listed as 5 feet 6 inches and 195 pounds in the warrant, 5 inches taller and more than 50 pounds heavier than the woman who was arrested.

The only apparent reason Munoz's Firebaugh address was in the county's computer system was because she and her husband, Angel, reported a vehicle burglary in 1994 when tools were stolen from his truck while they were in church. 

The case of misidentification was cleared up through fingerprint checks nearly four weeks after Munoz's arrest, after Gonzalez sent a letter to the sheriff's office demanding some action. 

Gonzalez had never put an amount on the damages Munoz was seeking, but asked jurors to award what they believed would be fair and to send a message to Fresno County to change its policies. 

The jury concluded that Munoz's constitutional rights had been violated, that she was unlawfully arrested and that the Sheriff's Department had failed to properly train its employees. 

In one part of the verdict that was in the county's favor, the jurors decided that deputies and correctional officers had no reason to know that Munoz, who complained of chest pains and spent two days in the hospital following her arrest, was in need of immediate medical attention.

Sheriff's deputies who testified at the trial had defended their arrest of Munoz and said no policies had changed because of the wrongful arrest. 

Lawyers James Weakley and James Arendt, representing the county, had little to say after the verdicts were read before U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger. 

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the verdict," Weakley said. "We'll talk to our client and evaluate the verdict and see whether to appeal or how they want to handle it." 

No settlement offers were made in the case before it went before the jury. 

Robert Chan, another of Munoz's lawyers, said it was a "classic" Fresno case. 

"If you're looking at a liability and have a bad case, do you stand back and offer nothing?" Chan asked. 

Gonzalez and Chan have won a series of cases against law enforcement agencies in the Valley, including a $1.45 million verdict in 1993 for four women who were subjected to an unlawful strip search after attending a meeting of the Dinuba school board. 

In addition to the $625,000 award to Munoz, Gonzalez and Chan also will file a motion with the court to be awarded costs and attorneys' fees in connection with the case, and that amount probably will total several hundred thousand dollars. 

Jurors said there was little difficulty deciding in favor of Munoz, whose doctor says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of her arrest. 

Several of the five men and three women on the civil jury hugged Munoz after she arrived at the courthouse, and two stayed to watch an afternoon news conference called by Gonzalez. 

"It was a mystery to us why it ever came to trial," said juror Marvin Rodgers of Merced. "It shouldn't have ever come to court." 

Another juror, Ron Washburn of Fresno, said that "in this day and age, with fingerprints, there is no reason that it didn't get settled sooner." 

Angel Munoz grew teary-eyed when he spoke of having to leave his wife alone when he goes to his farm-labor job each day. 

She is frightened and still worries about a knock on the door, said Angel Munoz, whose words were interpreted by Gonzalez. 

The reporter can be reached at  or 441-6484.,1,1538468.story

February 25, 2004 

County Pays for a Life Ruined
A Camarillo woman who was harassed by a jail inmate after his lawyer mistakenly gave out her phone number receives $340,000.

By Catherine Saillant, Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors have agreed to settle for $340,000 a Camarillo businesswoman's claim that she was threatened and harassed after a county lawyer accidentally gave his jailed client her telephone number and address.

Yvette Lopez and her 14-year-old daughter were forced to enter a witness protection program and move out of the county as a result of repeated harassment by the jailed man, his girlfriend and an acquaintance, said County Counsel Frank Sieh.

Lopez was targeted by Timothy Thomas because he had robbed her Oxnard insurance firm in January 2002 and Lopez, then 35, was expected to provide eyewitness testimony at his trial, court papers allege.

Thomas got the woman's home phone number and address from his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender William Rutan, who had inadvertently left with Thomas a copy of a police report with Lopez's home phone and address on it, documents allege.

Thomas wrote a threatening letter to Lopez from jail, Sieh said, and Thomas' girlfriend and another acquaintance confronted Lopez at her insurance firm and made more threats.

Sieh, the county's primary legal counsel, called it "a really ugly case."

"This went on for a while," he said. "She ultimately went into the witness protection program, sold her home and businesses and moved away."

Law enforcement officials realized what had happened when they searched Thomas' cell and found the police report, court documents say.

Public Defender Ken Clayman said it is his department's policy to blacken out any personal information on victims or witnesses when meeting with clients. But this document somehow slipped through, Clayman said.

"It was obviously a mistake and is clearly regrettable," he said.

Rutan, a veteran defense lawyer, received "appropriate" discipline and is still on the job, Clayman said.

Sieh said the disclosure was a mistake that could have happened to anyone.

"It's just something that happens inadvertently if you are not careful about redacting a report," Sieh said. "It's just in this case, it had some rather severe consequences for the victim."

Thomas is being prosecuted for harassment, Sieh said, and his girlfriend and the acquaintance have already been convicted of similar charges.

Thomas, who pleaded guilty to the robbery charge, is still in state prison, he said.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) -- The county agreed to pay two Sheriff's Department secretaries $325,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against a deputy. Angela Sanders and Julie Glass alleged in the June 2002 Superior Court suit that Deputy Clayton Turner sexually assaulted, battered and harassed them while on duty in the Lompoc substation and that the department retaliated against them after they filed the complaint. Turner could not be reached for comment. Sheriff Jim Anderson and Chief Assistant County Counsel Steve Underwood said Tuesday's settlement is not an admission of guilt, but rather a business decision. It would cost significantly less to settle than to go to trial, they said. "There is no question his behavior was inappropriate," Anderson said. Turner was disciplined, but the sheriff said he couldn't disclose any details about confidential personnel matters.

December 25, 2002 

Anaheim to Settle Profiling Lawsuit
A Korean man who says he was arrested in a CHP 
officer's killing because of his race will get 
$50,000. City officials deny any wrongdoing. 

By Seema Mehta, Times Staff Writer 

Anaheim has agreed to pay $50,000 to a Korean man who claimed that racial profiling by officers caused him to be wrongly detained for two days on suspicion of killing a California Highway Patrol officer. 

Anaheim officials said they settled the long-running case as a matter of expediency and insisted Tuesday that police officers did nothing improper. 

"There is absolutely no wrongdoing on the part of the city of Anaheim or the Anaheim Police Department. The settlement has nothing to do with officers doing something wrong," said Mark Gordon, deputy city attorney. "You litigate a case for six years, you put in a lot of time and money. There comes a time when you just want closure." 

Yong Ho Choi was arrested in 1996 on suspicion of killing CHP Officer Don Burt Jr. After he was released, a Vietnamese gang member was arrested and later convicted in the case. 

Choi was taken into custody at gunpoint on an Anaheim street corner shortly after a gunman shot CHP rookie Burt seven times in Fullerton and fled in the officer's car. The car was abandoned in Anaheim, and Choi was found waiting for a bus nearby. Several eyewitnesses identified him as the man Burt pulled over. 

He was released after police said evidence, such as fingerprints and gunpowder tests, failed to link him to the crime. 

Hung Thanh Mai, 25, of Anaheim was later convicted and sentenced to death. 

Choi sued Anaheim as well as Fullerton, whose police led the investigation. He said he was the victim of racial profiling, noting that officers arrested him after a general description of an Asian man was broadcast. 

Attempts to reach Choi or his attorney, Stephen Yagman, were unsuccessful.

County settles civil rights suit 

DNA cleared suspect after 23 months in jail 

Maline Hazle 
Record Searchlight 

Thomas Brewster 
December 17, 2002 — 2:18 a.m. 

A Red Bluff man who spent almost two years in Shasta County jail and faced a possible death penalty if convicted of a 1984 lovers' lane shooting near Burney has won a $360,000 federal court settlement for violations of his civil rights. 

In 1997, Thomas Brewster, now 49, was a week into his trial for the murder of 18-year-old Terry Arndt, shot to death on Dec. 18, 1984, when a DNA test came to Brewster's rescue. 

Semen stains found on a blouse worn by Arndt's 18-year-old female companion did not match Brewster's DNA, the tests showed. 

Only a week earlier the woman, who was sexually assaulted by Arndt's killer, had identified Brewster as her assailant in court testimony. 

Brewster was released from Shasta County Jail on Nov. 12, 1997, 23 months after his arrest in the long-unsolved slaying. 

While the killing remains unsolved, Brewster is back in custody, serving a state prison term for possession of methamphetamine. 

But in 1998 Brewster's attorneys, Rolland Papendick of Red Bluff and David Prentice, then of Sacramento, filed a $10 million civil rights suit on his behalf in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. 

The suit named Shasta County, the Sheriff's Department and Capt. Bradd McDannold and Sgt. Steve Compomizzo, who reopened the old murder case and eventually arrested Brewster. Also named originally was the state Department of Justice, which performed laboratory tests on clothing from the shooting scene. 

The state was dropped as a defendant in 1999 after a federal judge ruled that a state cannot be sued in federal court. 

In October, Shasta County agreed to settle with Brewster and his attorneys. 

Assistant Shasta County Counsel Mike Ralston said Monday that the county still maintains it "had not done any of the things wrong that they claimed we had." 

Had the county gone to trial and lost the case, Ralston said, "we would have been looking at (costs) substantially more than the settlement." 

The county is self-insured for the first $250,000 of the settlement, with the rest paid by the state's Association of Counties, he said. 

Brewster's attorney, Papendick, said Monday that Brewster's criminal history and drug problems played a role in his decision to settle. Brewster is serving a six-year prison term. 

Papendick, who also represented Brewster at his criminal trial, said that after the state reported no DNA on the woman's clothing he almost didn't have it tested again. 

He wanted tests of Arndt's clothing, but his forensic analyst suggested testing all the clothing, Papendick said.

The defense team was "speechless" when they learned the results. 

Papendick contends that it was a combination of the state's botched tests and the investigators' approach to the case that violated Brewster's rights. 

"The total focus of the investigation was conviction, not to establish the truth," Papendick said. He said the female witness was coaxed into identifying Brewster, even though she initially had doubts about it and that the deputies virtually ignored Brewster's alibi. 

Former Shasta County Assistant District Attorney Jerry Benito, who prosecuted Brewster, laid all the blame on Bruce Palmer, who was the assistant director of the state Department of Justice laboratory in Redding at the time. 

"I still have a vivid recollection of sitting at a table and specifically telling Palmer the clothing needed to be tested," Benito said Monday. In fact, Benito said, detectives even ordered a DNA test of swabs used to detect possible gunpowder residue on the woman's hands.

Those tests were done and proved negative, but Palmer, who said he had tested the clothing in 1984 and found nothing, did not bother to run new tests after the investigation was reopened, Benito said. 

Instead, Palmer told detectives that there was no DNA on the clothing, Benito said. 

"I don't know how he missed it in 1984, but he should have listened to us when we asked to have it retested," Benito said. "It's very frustrating. . . . If the semen had never been found, I'm confident he would have been convicted and that's very frightening." 

A spokesman for the state Department of Justice Law Enforcement Division declined to comment on the case Monday, saying that his department wanted to complete a review of the case details before commenting. 

Reporter Maline Hazle can be reached at 225-8266 or at

December 5, 2002 

Family pursues claim in killing
Teen's relatives say use of force was not warranted for offense; officials say deputies feared for their lives as stolen SUV's driver tried to escape. 

By Gene Maddaus, Inland Valley Voice 

CHINO -- The family of a 17-year-old boy shot and killed last week by San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies plans to file a civil rights claim against the Sheriff's Department, an attorney said Wednesday. 

Christian Avila's family said they believe that the force used against him was out of proportion to his alleged crime: striking a patrol car while trying to escape in a stolen sport utility vehicle. 

Attorney James Reiss, who said he was 99% sure he would handle the case, said three factors make the shooting troublesome: "Number one, his age. Two, he's unarmed. And number three, he's dead. Those facts won't change."

Reiss said the San Bernardino County coroner's office released Avila's body Wednesday. Reiss plans to have an independent medical examiner do a second autopsy. 

"We're going to do a full and complete investigation, separate from the police," he said. 

The Sheriff's Department is investigating the shooting and will turn its results over to the district attorney's office for review. Reiss said the family wants to see the deputies who fired on Avila disciplined or prosecuted. 

"We want justice to be done," said Gonzalo Avila, 28, one of Christian Avila's four brothers. "We want for them to come over here and tell us why they killed him." 

A deputy and a sergeant opened fire on Christian Avila about 3:10 p.m. Friday, Sheriff's Department spokesman Chip Patterson said. The deputies had been notified by representatives of OnStar, a satellite navigation system, that a stolen GMC Yukon was outside a home on Treasure Way in Chino Hills. When the deputies arrived, they saw Avila walk from the house to the SUV and get in. They ordered him out, but he did not comply, Patterson said. A deputy smashed the passenger window and sprayed pepper spray at Avila, but he still did not comply, according to Patterson. 

The SUV backed up abruptly, smashing into a patrol car and forcing deputies to jump out of the way, witnesses said. As the SUV jerked forward again, the deputies fired, striking Avila at least once in the chest. 

A witness who asked not to be identified said Avila seemed to be trying to escape, but did not appear to intend to harm the deputies. Patterson said the deputies opened fire because they feared for their lives. 

"Everybody makes bad decisions," his brother, Juan Carlos Avila, said. "It didn't have to end up like this. ... There's proper protocol for all of this. Where's their bean bags? Where's their rubber bullets? They didn't have to take my brother's life for a stolen SUV." 

Christian Avila attended continuation school and planned to be an auto mechanic. 

"He was a regular teenager," his brother Roger Avila said. 

He was working to restore an old car he had bought. 

He had at least one run-in with the law, last summer. His brothers declined to discuss the incident, but said that an Ontario police dog was used to subdue Christian as he tried to run away. 

His juvenile records are sealed, but Reiss said he believed Christian may have been on probation. The family told him that the Ontario incident involved a burglary from a car or a vandalism. 

"He's a non-violent person," Reiss said. 

Gonzalo Avila said his brother had "a good heart." 

"He had some bad influence around him, but he was shaping up," he said. 

The two deputies remain on routine administrative leave. Their names have not been released. 

The Avilas are planning a carwash to raise money for burial expenses on Saturday morning at La Taquiza, a Mexican restaurant at 5065 Riverside Drive. In case of rain, the carwash will take place Sunday morning. A carwash on Tuesday raised about $1,200.

October 9, 2002  E-mail story  Print 

Inmates to Be Paid for Extra Time in Jail
 Rights: Ventura County officials agree to settle for nearly $256,000 in a lawsuit brought by 81 people rearrested by Sheriff's Department while in custody. 


Ventura County will pay $255,600 to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by dozens of jail inmates who contend that authorities violated their legal rights by keeping them in custody for days without filing criminal charges. 

Lawyers and administrators for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department confirmed the settlement Tuesday after emerging from a closed meeting in which the county Board of Supervisors authorized the payment. 

"I think from the county's perspective that the settlement was very good," Oxnard attorney Philip Erickson said. "We limited the damages, and we especially limited the attorney fees." 

Under the agreement, which still must be approved in federal court, 81 former inmates will be paid between $100 and $1,250 for each extra day spent in jail. 

Inmates who were never charged with a crime will receive more money than those who were charged, convicted and given credit for time served. The most any one inmate will be paid is $7,500, Erickson said. 

State law requires that suspects be arraigned on criminal charges or released within 48 hours of arrest. But for years, Ventura County law enforcement officers have rearrested suspects while they were still in custody, giving prosecutors more time to gather evidence to support charges. 

As a result, many suspects who were never convicted of the crimes for which they were arrested were held for extra days. 

Chief Deputy Ken Kipp, who oversees detention services for the Sheriff's Department, said that the practice of rearresting inmates was abandoned after concerns were raised nearly two years ago. 

"We didn't try to fight it," Kipp said. "We sat down and said, 'We've got to fix this.' " 

Plaintiffs' attorney John Burton of Pasadena said he was pleased with the "constructive and positive attitude" county officials took in solving the problem. 

"We sometimes don't see that from government entities and police departments, and we certainly saw it here," he said. 

Kipp called the settlement fair and reasonable. Both he and Erickson said the county could have faced a much steeper legal bill if settlement negotiations had dragged on or the case had gone to trial. 

Last year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $27 million to settle five class-action lawsuits brought by inmates held in jail after courts ordered them released. The lawsuit involved about 400,000 detainees. 

Although in-custody arrests in Ventura County affected far more inmates than the 81 involved in the federal lawsuit, many were excluded by statute of limitations. 

Those named in the lawsuit were affected in the year before February 2001, when Burton filed a legal claim. 

The settlement marks the second time the county has resolved a federal lawsuit involving improper in-custody arrests. 

Earlier this year, the Sheriff's Department paid $125,000 to Westlake Village businessman Lee Mannheimer, who was jailed for several days in September 1999 on suspicion of trying to kill his ex-wife. He was never charged with the crime and sued the county for false arrest. 

Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

El Dorado County settles ex-inmate's suit for $35,000

Bee Metro Staff 
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Sunday, September 15, 2002 

SACRAMENTO -- El Dorado County has settled a federal lawsuit filed by a former jail inmate for 
$35,000, according to his attorney. 

Eric Q. Beeghley, who was being held on a charge of driving under the influence and was awaiting transfer to state prison for violating probation, filed the suit claiming his civil rights were violated in an 
altercation with a county correctional officer, Charles D. Copeland. 

Copeland was acquitted earlier this year of charges he intentionally beat Beeghley. 

The officer said Beeghley had resisted officers' efforts to move him to a jail segregation unit. 

Beeghley's attorney, Stewart Katz, said his client had accepted the county's offer of $35,000 to drop the federal suit. 

L.A. County settlement costs soar 
Report on shootings involving deputies 
Troy Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News 
Sunday, August 18, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle. 


Los Angeles -- The county paid almost $1.2 million in settlements and court judgments for deputy-involved shootings during the first half of this year, equaling the level for all of last year, according to new figures issued by the county. 

The figures show that Los Angeles County spent $1.165 million as of July 25, compared with $1.174 million for all of 2001. The county has spent $20.6 million on deputy-involved shootings since 1991, averaging $1.7 million a year. 

Also, a recent report by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb found the number of deputy-involved shootings in which someone was hit rose from 18 in 2000 to 19 in 2001. Meanwhile, the number of suspects wounded rose from six to eight while the number of suspects killed remained at 12 in both years. 

In the Los Angeles Police Department, the number of shootings dropped from 79 in 2000 to 66 in 2001, but the number of shootings in which someone was actually hit rose from 11 in 2000 to 13 in 2001. 

"It's really quite shocking that this continues to go on," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "I think the problem is management. I think management needs to be concerned about these kinds of statistics, and officers probably need addi [original ends here.] 

"I think the chief of the LAPD and the sheriff must take responsibility and make sure the bad apples are weeded out," she said.

Sheriff's Capt. Ray Leyva said the costs and number of deputy-involved shootings have gone up and that the department is trying to get a handle on the problem. 

"We need to keep our supervisors out on the streets," Leyva said. "If we have supervisors out on the streets, responding to calls, getting there early - - especially on hot calls where there is a weapon involved and domestic violence -- then you have that next line of supervision involved. 

"Amazing as it is, if they see a guy show up with three stripes on his shoulder, the guys calm down a little bit. Unfortunately, we don't have enough supervisors in the field." 

The incident that gained the most publicity involved a shootout on Aug. 31 in Santa Clarita. Last month, the mother of James Allen Beck, who shot and killed Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian, then died in the ensuing gunbattle, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court alleging deputies used excessive force against her son. 

The rising costs of deputy-involved shootings come as the cash-strapped county has been hit with a string of record judgments, including a ruling in June that the county must pay $60 million in back wages to 500-plus officers of its Office of Public Safety, a $27 million judgment in September against the Sheriff's Department for keeping up to 400,000 inmates in jail beyond their release dates, and a proposed $12 million verdict this month in a Department of Health Services case in which the county's legal team showed up and then left before the start of the trial. 

In fiscal year 2001-02, which ended June 30, the county spent $56.2 million on lawsuit and claim settlements and judgments, down slightly from the $58.4 million spent in 2000-01. A record $76 million in payouts occurred in 1998-99. 

Almost all of the $1.2 million paid out this year went for a $1.15 million settlement for the family of Bryant Hunter Sr., who died seven days after being shot in 1998 by a deputy in Compton. 

A number of deputy-involved shootings have occurred recently in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. 

In February 2000, sheriff's deputies killed a suicidal, gun-wielding Montrose man. The man, who was armed with a shotgun, was walking in and out of his home, firing into the air and then pointed the weapon at deputies. 

In February, a distraught motorist, Raimin Isayo, 28, who was waving a handgun, led deputies on a chase from Palmdale to Littlerock, where he was shot to death by deputies in front of the home of his wife's parents. 

Mark Gault, a 37-year-old Canyon Country man, was killed in a Nov. 18, 2000, shootout when he began firing an assault rifle at three Santa Clarita sheriff's deputies responding to a vandalism report. 

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle 

LA County found liable for Sheriff's treatment of inmates 

Friday, June 28, 2002 
©2002 Associated Press 


(06-28) 00:45 PDT LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 

The county can be held liable for the death of inmates that resulted from the sheriff's department's jailing policies, a federal appeals court ruled. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a federal court ruling Thursday that Sheriff Lee Baca was acting on behalf of the county, when his deputies kept Maruricio Avalos in a cell with rival gang members who beat him to death in July 1999. 

"Just as public school administrators may be held accountable for violence and harassment occurring on school grounds, so too are sheriffs responsible to prevent and quell violence in the jail, not as law enforcement officials, but as administrators wielding control over persons entrusted to their custody," Judge Warren J. Ferguson wrote in the opinion. 

The ruling allows a federal lawsuit by the inmate's heirs against the county to proceed. The plaintiffs allege the sheriff had deprived the former gang member, who was awaiting trial for armed robbery, of his constitutional rights by failing to provide a safe jail cell. 

The county had argued it was not liable for Baca's actions because he was acting on behalf of the state in setting policies for county jail cells. But the court disagreed, citing California's constitutional designation of sheriffs as "county officers" and provisions that granted counties with "ultimate power over the jail." 

The federal panel also found Avalos was transferred under the sheriff's policy of segregating gang members, after they learned he had a tattoo associated with a gang. 

Avalos was originally held with the general jail population. After the transfer, he immediately became a target of threats by gang inmates and died from injuries suffered during an attacked by five of his cellmates. 

©2002 Associated Press 

June 23, 2002 

FBI Probe of Jail Welcome

The Orange County Board of Supervisors faces tough questions in the wake of its decision to pay $650,000 to survivors of an inmate who died from head injuries shortly after being booked into the Orange County Jail. 

Supervisors and the Sheriff's Department have declined to comment on the settlement to be paid to two children of Gilbert Garcia, a 32-year-old inmate who died June 1, 1998, two days after being carried out of the County Jail on a stretcher after a struggle with deputies. 

A coroner's report indicated that Garcia died of internal bleeding caused by a skull fracture, and 
Garcia's survivors maintain that a grainy jail surveillance tape proves that the inmate was 
mistreated The district attorney's office, which investigated the death, concluded that Garcia 
exhibited symptoms of a head injury when he was booked into Orange County Jail on May 30. 

The district attorney cleared the Sheriff's Department of wrongdoing but has said it would review any new evidence in the case. 

Garcia's family continues to allege that his civil rights were violated, and the FBI is still 
investigating what happened inside the jail--one of five similar probes into claims of brutality inside 
the jail. The settlement, approved by a 4-1 vote, adds to existing concerns about jail brutality and 
civil-rights abuses. 

Between 1991 and 2000, the county paid $445,000 in taxpayer funds for injury claims filed on behalf of inmates. 

The previous highest settlement was $100,000 for a case involving a 43-year-old inmate who died in 1995 after fighting with deputies. 

We welcome the FBI's continued involvement because a federal investigation seems more likely to produce an independent review of Garcia's death and other cases in which county investigations into inmate charges of abuse have arisen. 

County residents deserve an investigation of charges made by inmates and explanations offered by deputies. 

It's not an easy task given the charged environment inside a jail, where the potential for violence is 

The tense atmosphere demands, however, that those charged with running the facilities ensure that inmates are not mistreated. 

Several years ago, a grand jury underlined the potential for serious problems when it cited an 
"oppressive and threatening atmosphere" inside the main county jail that jurors blamed on a "vicious 
cycle of mutual antagonism and harassment between inmates and deputies." 

The FBI needs to determine whether excessive force was used in the Garcia case and other incidents in which inmates have alleged abuses. 

The public must have confidence that sheriff's deputies are in control of the jail, and that staffing 
levels and training are sufficient to produce a humane and safe environment for inmates and deputies alike. 

The alternative is the potential for more allegations of violation of prisoners' rights, and more 
settlements and court judgments borne by taxpayers.

Judge says county must pay $60 million to OPS officers 

Wednesday, June 19, 2002 

(06-19) 01:18 PDT LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A judge ruled that county officials must pay $60 million in back wages to more than 500 members of the Office of Public Safety in an employee discrimination lawsuit. 

Superior Court Judge Victor Chavez's decision on Tuesday may have been the largest verdict ever against the county. "I cannot remember anything of this magnitude before," said County Counsel Lloyd Pellman. 

The ruling follows a jury verdict June 7 that said the county racially discriminated against a police force made up mostly of blacks and Hispanics. The police force patrols county hospitals, parks and other facilities. The plaintiffs' attorneys were seeking more than $100 million in salary increases, back pay and pension funds for their clients. However, Chavez ruled that the county must pay the plaintiffs seven years of back pay totaling $60 million as well as hike their pensions retroactively and raise their salaries to the level of sheriff's deputies. 

Officers claim the county operated a law-enforcement caste system in which public safety officers were paid 40 percent less than sheriff's deputies and were denied pensions equivalent to that of deputies. The officers allege they have been referred to as "wannabe sheriffs" and treated like security guards. The "Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the county safety police have two different functions and responsibilities," county Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. "The requirements are different, as are the responsibilities. 

The board strongly believes this decision will be reversed at the appellate level because of this." If upheld, the verdict would be a financial blow to the county. Next week, county supervisors are slated to approve a budget that cuts $50 million from the Sheriff's Department. They also will consider more than $100 million in cuts to the Department of Health Services, which faces an $800 million deficit. 

Sonoma to pay $1 million to family of woman killed by husband 

JUSTIN PRITCHARD, Associated Press Writer 
Wednesday, June 19, 2002 
©2002 Associated Press 

URL: -

(06-19) 00:35 PDT SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

Just before her estranged husband shot and killed her, Maria Teresa Macias asked her mother to share her story with anyone who would listen. 

On Tuesday, Sara Hernandez honored her daughter's request by testifying in federal court and by the afternoon the case against Sonoma County was over. County officials cut the proceedings short by approving an unusual $1 million settlement in the federal civil rights case. 

Under the settlement, county officials do not admit either negligence or wrongdoing. 

Hernandez told the court how in the weeks before the killing, Macias repeatedly asked Sonoma County authorities to enforce a restraining order against Avelino Macias, and how sheriff's deputies appeared indifferent to her pleas. 

Macias was 36 in April 1996 when Avelino Macias killed her, and shot Hernandez, as they headed to a housecleaning job in Sonoma. 

Macias, who was born in Mexico, approached sheriff's deputies at least nine times in the weeks before she was killed asking them to shield her from her husband's stalking and threats -- as her restraining order mandated. 

Lawyers for her mother and three children sought $15 million from Sonoma County on the principle that the sheriff's department was liable for Macias' death because it did not intervene -- and its inaction came because Macias was a female victim of domestic violence. 

Word of the settlement came during a recess on the jury trial's second day in U.S. District Court, just after Macias' mother had finished testifying about the killing, including how Avelino Macias shot himself. 

Hernandez, who lives in Mexico with Macias' 12-year-old son, said the money would help. More importantly, however, she fulfilled Macias' wishes that her story gain widespread attention. 

"I have fulfilled my daughter's wish," Hernandez said. 

After court-ordered negotiations last week, county supervisors approved the settlement Tuesday. Lawyers representing Sonoma County did not return calls for comment Tuesday. 

"We don't believe the sheriff's department in any way discriminated against Macias, but we do believe it's in the best interest of everyone involved, including the children, to bring closure to the case," said Paul Kelley, vice chairman of Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. 

The case prompted an investigation by the state attorney general. That report criticized communication between the sheriff's department, the district attorney and the courts in enforcement of protective orders. In response, the county made major changes in how officials investigate and prosecute domestic violence cases. 

The Macias family lawyer said he was disappointed the nine jurors didn't decide the case, perhaps setting a new legal precedent for police liability -- but was happy for the family. 

"These are people that don't have a lot of money, that don't have a lot of opportunities," attorney Rick Seltzer said.

Though there was no jury verdict, he said, the fact that the case reached federal court will echo with law enforcement authorities charged with formulating domestic violence response policies. 

©2002 Associated Press 

Published on October 7, 2001, 

Press-Enterprise, The (Riverside, CA) 

Figuring the costs of graft: 

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Using figures from several sources, it's about $34 million -- so far. 


The corruption scandal has cost San Bernardino County a lot more than just its reputation.Based on figures that are available, compiled from a variety of sources, the price so far is about $34 million.That's about $2 million less than the county's budget for planning in its Land Use Services department, more than one-fourth of what the county spends on regional parks, or half of the county counsel's budget.By far, the. . . 

Published on July 17, 2001, 

Daily News of Los Angeles (CA) 


A Los Angeles County panel has recommended a $295,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles man whose conviction for rock cocaine possession was reversed - after he spent 27 months in prison - because sheriff's deputies gave conflicting testimony at his trial. 

The Board of Supervisors will vote July 31 whether to approve the settlement recommended Monday by the county Claims Board.Beverly Hills attorney Leo Terrell said the case, which his client Calvin Newburn filed. . . 

Published on July 10, 2001, 
Daily News of Los Angeles (CA) 


CASTAIC - An attorney defending Los Angeles County in two lawsuits filed on behalf of more than 200 African-American inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center will ask that the claims be dismissed. 

In the lawsuits, the inmates claim deputies at the jail complex failed to protect them from attacks by Latino inmates and encouraged racial tension that ultimately led to a three-day riot in April 2000. 

During the fighting, one African-American inmate was beaten into a coma, one suffered. . . 

Published on August 30, 2001, 
The Sacramento Bee 

Sheriff seeks to fire 6 deputies

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department is moving to fire six deputies and suspend nine others at the county jail after an investigation into charges of inmate abuse, officials said Wednesday. 

The termination attempt involves four deputies and two recently promoted sergeants who allegedly took part in "counseling sessions" with inmates that involved unnecessary use of force against the prisoners, officials said. 

"We understand the law, and it's. . . 

Published on October 17, 2001, 
The Orange County Register 

Delay in freeing inmates alleged 

Crime: Laguna Hills attorney files a claim similar to one that cost L.A. County $27 million. A prominent prisoners' rights attorney filed a claim Tuesday accusing Orange County officials of unreasonable delay in freeing inmates who have been ordered released from jail. 

The claim, filed by Laguna Hills attorney Richard P. Herman, names inmate Fred Pierce of Anaheim, who was set free about midnight Tuesday -- roughly 12 hours after a judge ordered his release. 

A similar complaint in Los Angeles County resulted in a $27 million settlement this year. 

Published on April 8, 2001, The Orange County Register 

Jail suits raise eyebrows

Courts Inmates or their families filed 108 lawsuits against the county in 1999, and some groups fear a pattern of abuse. 

The number of lawsuits filed on behalf of Orange County jail inmates has risen sharply during the past seven years, costing taxpayers more than $2 million in settlements, judgments and legal costs, county figures show. 

Neither county supervisors nor sheriff's officials would comment on a reason for the dramatic increase in jail lawsuits. But the spike comes amid rising concern by plaintiff's attorneys and inmate-rights advocates over alleged systemic brutality by. . .

Published on July 16, 2000, The Orange County Register 

Lawyer has lock on hard cases

CRIME: Defender for jail inmates is known as a straight shooter. 

The clock on his desk is an hour behind.And his law diplomas are stained from being stored in an ex-wife's garage.Attorney Jonathan M. Slipp doesn't sweat the little things. 

A former air traffic controller, Slipp, 50, has the laid-back persona of one who made a career out of keeping cool. Even as a Boeing 737 was crash-landing on his shift.

Now, Slipp has become a one-man thorn in the side of the Sheriff's Department. He is representing 40 jail. . .

Published on February 8, 2000, The Orange County Register 

Inmates say beating allegations ignored

JAILS: Sheriff's Department says its interviews didn't reveal hints of deputy misconduct, but it will open new probe. 

An investigator looking into a November disturbance at the Men's Central Jail refused to take inmates' complaints of alleged beatings by deputies, according to inmates and their attorney. 

Inmate Todd Frezzell said he tried to tell an investigator that he had been beaten with batons and needlessly pepper sprayed." 

Any time I brought up about being beaten, they cut it off and said, `We don't want to talk about that,' " said Frezzell, one of 23 inmates who. . . 

Published on March 17, 2001, 
Fresno Bee, The (CA) 


Kings County Sheriff Ken Marvin is one step closer to settling a lawsuit with the county that would give him discretion over which inmates are released early from jail. 

In a closed-door settlement conference Friday, Marvin presented a draft proposal to the county and Superior Court Judge Peter Schultz outlining the maximum number of inmates he believes the jail can hold. 

"We're all working together to try to develop a document we can live with for a while," Marvin said. . . 

Sex-abuse suit against ex-public defender settled

Published on November 15, 2001, Sacramento Bee 

A former Sacramento County assistant public defender testified earlier this  year that the office's policy was routinely violated by assistants taking juvenile wards out of custody for brief periods.The testimony came in the deposition of Susan O. Kusler, in a federal civil rights lawsuit over her 
taking a 12-year-old client out of custody in 1996. 

The boy, identified as Michael D. in court papers, and his mother, Rose Green, alleged that he was 
sexually abused by Kusler. . . 

Sheriff's deputies sued in shooting Orangevale man was left paraplegic after sword incident.

Published on November 10, 2001, Sacramento Bee 

An Orangevale man who became a paraplegic after being shot by two sheriff's deputies sued Sacramento County and the deputies Friday, alleging excessive force and false arrest.Matthew Aaron Blanford, 21, also sued Kaiser Permanente and one of the health care giant's staff psychiatrists for medical malpractice in connection with a psychotropic drug prescribed by the doctor on Nov. 13, 2000, the day of the shooting. 

Blanford was charged with resisting arrest, but the. . . 

Payout Advised in LAPD Case; Liability: Attorneys agree to $1.7- million settlement of civil suit. Officer allegedly shot at an unarmed man, then planted a gun near him. 
The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Nov 7, 2001; MATT LAIT;SCOTT GLOVER; 

Words in Document: 1058 

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The LAPD detective who handled the officer-involved-shooting investigation said the apparent gunshot must have originated from within the house. He said he relied in part on the opinion of an LAPD firearms expert. But when contacted by The Times, the firearms expert said he did not think it was possible to conclude whether the gunshot came from inside the residence simply by ... 

County settles teen's injury suit

Published on September 19, 2001, Sacramento Bee 

Sacramento County has agreed to pay a teenager $47,000 to settle a lawsuit over two broken wrists inflicted on him by a county probation officer. 

The county will pay $11,482.86 to Michael Mendez's attorney, Stewart Katz; $1,068.55 to satisfy incidental and medical expenses; and deposit $34,448.59 into a trust account for Mendez. When he turns 18 on July 12, he will have access to the money. 

According to a federal lawsuit, Mendez was 15 in December 1999 when he was. . . 

Thursday, March 2, 2000 

Parents of dead teen file lawsuit

Jim Schultz 
Record Searchlight

YREKA — The parents of a 14-year-old Macdoel boy who froze to death in December 1998 are suing Siskiyou County, its sheriff, two doctors and a number of others in connection with the teen's death. 

The 18-page lawsuit, which will be heard March 13 in Siskiyou County Superior Court in Yreka, seeks unspecified general and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees and funeral and burial expenses. 

In July 1999, two Dorris residents convicted of child endangerment — Esperanza Iva Saucedo-Fogel and Terry Dean Chadwell, both 35 — were sentenced to eight years in prison for giving 14-year-old Travis Burke beer and whiskey and allowing him to leave a Dorris party in sub-zero temperatures.

His frozen body was found five days later off Dorris-Brownell Road on Highway 97 near Dorris. Toxicology reports show that Burke had a blood-alcohol level of at least .12 percent. 

Nicholas Alejandro Hernandez, 19, was also convicted for the crime and sentenced to 90 days in jail and required to undergo alcohol treatment programs. 

The trio are among those named as defendants in the lawsuit filed late last year by the teen's parents, Darrell Burke and Mary Koger. 

The lawsuit also names as defendants the county, Siskiyou County Sheriff Charlie Byrd, Dr. James Olson, Dr. Orazio Rosolia, three members of the Sheriff's Department — Lou Delgado, Dave Nicholson and Dave Young — Skoogs Market and Butte Valley Mobile Estates Trailer Park. 

The lawsuit alleges that the Sheriff's Department failed to conduct an adequate and thorough search for the boy, who was a Butte Valley High School freshman, when he was reported missing Dec. 5, 1998, after attending a party the night before. 

Burke's body was found covered by snow Dec. 10. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Rosolia botched the initial autopsy performed on the boy, which required his body be exhumed for a second autopsy. 

Olson is named in the lawsuit because, it says, he didn't put Burke's heart, brain, tongue, throat and internal organs in the body after the second autopsy — something Burke's parents didn't know about. The boy was reburied without the organs. 

Siskiyou County Undersheriff Mike Lyon has said the department launched an extensive search for the boy and noted that it was not notified he was missing until 24 hours after he left the party. 

Koger, who has declined comment on the lawsuit, has said she last saw her son alive when he was dropped off at school Dec. 5, 1998, — a Friday — with the understanding he would spend that night and the following night at a friend's house in Dorris so he could go to a basketball tournament there. 

She has said she would never have let her son stay over if she had known a party was going to be held there. 

Reporter Jim Schultz can be reached at 225-8223 or at

Wednesday, April 5, 2000 

Tehama bias suit reinstated

Jim Schultz 
Record Searchlight

RED BLUFF — A $46 million lawsuit filed against Tehama County more than four years ago by a former sheriff's deputy who claims she was forced to resign due to politics has been resurrected by an appellate court. 

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco recently ruled that DiRuzza's political activities were protected under the First Amendment, overturning a U.S. District Court decision. 

DiRuzza, a Cottonwood mother of two who works as a part-time supervisor in the photo lab at Costco in Redding, filed her lawsuit against Tehama County in 1996. The lawsuit alleges that she was forced to resign by ex-Sheriff Rob Heard because she actively supported his campaign opponent — then-incumbent Sheriff Rudy ''Mike'' Blanusa — in the 1994 election. 

Her lawsuit was reinstated after the federal appellate court overturned a U.S. District Court decision that concluded DiRuzza was subject to political retribution since political loyalty was a requirement for the job. 

Tehama County Supervisor George Russell of Red Bluff declined Tuesday to say whether the county might appeal or seek a rehearing of the court's ruling. Russell referred that question to County Counsel Nelson Buck, who was not available for comment. 

DiRuzza said she was employed at the Red Bluff office for nearly three years before Heard and former Undersheriff Jerry Floyd misused their powers as public officials to punish her for supporting Blanusa. She appeared in TV and radio commercials supporting Blanusa. 

Heard denies the allegations. 

Heard took over the office in January 1995 while DiRuzza was serving a 30-day suspension after becoming involved in a domestic dispute with her former fiance, who threatened her with physical violence, according to the court's 18-page ruling. 

DiRuzza fired warning shots from her service revolver and out her bedroom window during the dispute. She was charged by the district attorney's office for gross negligent discharge of a firearm, a felony, and exhibiting a firearm in a rude and threatening manner, a misdemeanor. 

When DiRuzza returned to her job after the suspension, Heard refused to swear her in and assigned her to jail duties without a weapon, she claimed. 

She resigned from the department in August 1995 after she was offered a plea bargain in connection with the felony criminal case, pleading guilty to disturbing the peace and paying a $100 fine. 

Although DiRuzza could not be reached Tuesday for comment, her husband, Bernard, said they both felt vindicated by the court's ruling. 

''We finally got the decision in our favor,'' he said. 

Reporter Jim Schultz can be reached at 225-8223 or at

Tuesday, August 8, 2000 

Ex-deputy's suit advances 

Supreme Court refuses to intervene in Tehama County case on politics Jim Schultz 
Record Searchlight "We were hoping to get rid of the matter without going to trial."County Counsel Nelson Buck 

WASHINGTON — A former Tehama County sheriff's deputy who filed a $46 million lawsuit against the county in 1996 won a victory of sorts Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court.The Supreme Court rejected a request from Tehama County to intervene in the legal fray between it and Sherol DiRuzza of Cottonwood." 

That's good news," said DiRuzza, who had not learned of the court's action and would not comment any further.Still, Tehama County Counsel Nelson Buck said the court's refusal to intervene in the civil case sets the stage for a possible federal trial." 

We were hoping to get rid of the matter without going to trial," he said, adding the court's decision to stay out of the case does not hurt the county's position.DiRuzza filed her lawsuit four years ago saying she was forced to resign from the Sheriff's Department as a result of her political activities. 

This past spring, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a U.S. District Court decision and ruled that DiRuzza's political activities were protected under the First Amendment. 

In her lawsuit, DiRuzza's alleges that she was forced to resign by ex-Sheriff Rob Heard because she actively supported his campaign opponent — then incumbent Sheriff Rudy "Mike" Blanusa — in the 1994 election. DiRuzza voiced her support of Blanusa in TV and radio commercials. 

DiRuzza has said she was employed at the Red Bluff office for nearly three years before Heard and former Undersheriff Jerry Floyd misused their powers as public officials to punish her for supporting Blanusa. 

Heard, who lost re-election to sheriff in 1998, has denied those allegations. Heard took over the sheriff's job in January 1995 while DiRuzza was serving a 30-day suspension after being involved in a domestic dispute with her former fiance, who threatened her with physical violence, she said. 

DiRuzza fired warning shots from her service revolver and out her bedroom window during the dispute and was charged by the district attorney's office for gross negligent discharge of a firearm, a felony, and exhibiting a firearm in a rude and threatening manner, a misdemeanor. 

When DiRuzza returned to her job after her suspension, Heard refused to swear her in and assigned her to jail duties without a weapon, she claims. 

She resigned from the department in August 1995 after she was offered a plea bargain in connection with the felony criminal case, pleading guilty to disturbing the peace and paying a $100 fine. 

Reporter Jim Schultz can be reached at 225-8223 or at

Thursday, May 4, 2000 

Payback time 

Woman, jailed for lying on welfare form, gets check but not exoneration

Kimberly Bolander 
Record Searchlight

Jeannette Turner holds up a photo of herself with her children before she went to prison. The boxes behind and in front of her are full of evidence from her case that was returned. Included, she said, was evidence withheld from the jury that proves her innocence. 

RED BLUFF — Jeannette Turner finally got her welfare check and food stamps. 

Too bad she had to serve three years in prison, put her kids in foster homes and be found guilty of perjury before the payoff finally arrived, she said Wednesday. 

Last week, Turner, 49, of Red Bluff received about $2,500 in food stamps. Before that, she was granted $8,000 in retroactive welfare money and got her Medi-Cal reinstated when the welfare application she allegedly falsified was granted. 

Despite her recent victories, a welfare perjury conviction that landed her in prison still stands. 

Turner's troubles began when she filled out an application for welfare June 28, 1995. 

Her application was denied on the basis that she had too many valuables to qualify for aid. She collected no money. 

Meanwhile, Tehama County welfare investigators questioned her response to a question on the form. In 1996, Turner found herself criminally charged with perjury for claiming on the application she had not worked in the past five years. 

Turner said she had transferred ownership of her adult novelty business, Suducktions, in Ukiah, at the time she filled out the application and did not see herself as an employee, her attorney said. When she did own it, it made no money, so Turner got no income from it. 

A Tehama County Superior Court jury found Turner guilty, but she said she was wrongly convicted for checking the wrong box on a complicated form. The additional pages she included with the application explaining her answers and her business ownership could not be used as evidence in support of her. 

Turner was sentenced to three years in prison. Her son and daughter, now 6 and 10, respectively, went to foster care. She never dreamed she'd serve her whole term, she said. 

''I just kept thinking, 'One day, somebody's going to come and let me out.' Each day would go by and I'd mark off my calendars, just waiting for somebody to come and help,'' she said. 

In the meantime, Turner won an administrative appeal to get back on Supplemental Security Income. After that, Tehama County welfare officials approved her reapplication for aid. 

Evanne O'Donnell, a civil attorney with the Chico office of Legal Services of Northern California, helped Turner win her food stamp benefits. She said the social worker helping Turner fill out the form should have caught the mistake and corrected it. Instead, the social worker reported Turner to welfare's investigation unit. O'Donnell said the case shows prejudice against the community's poor. 

''It's a very politically correct thing to look good in the public eye and catch the 'welfare cheats,''' she said.''Instead of protecting taxpayers' coffers, (prosecutors) spent like crazy,'' she said.Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen, who prosecuted the case, said Turner was charged correctly and the verdict was just. 

''She was convicted because she lied and failed to divulge her means of income and all her assets,'' he said.That Turner's application was later granted has no bearing on the fact that she lied on the original form, he said.Cohen said it seems Turner has had a tough life as a single mom, but her perjury conviction doesn't lend much credibility to what she tells reporters, Cohen said 

.''She was convicted of perjury, which is lying under oath or affirmation. Be careful what you believe as to what comes out of this lady's mouth,'' he said.Since her conviction, Turner has appealed her criminal case — and lost — in rulings by the 3rd District Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court. She is petitioning the U.S. Eastern District Court to declare her sentence cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of her eighth amendment rights. A win could release her from probation and potentially help in a civil lawsuit, O'Donnell said. 

Although she was released from prison on Thanksgiving Day, she's still angry.  ''I missed my son's going to kindergarten, I missed his first teeth coming out, I missed his soccer games. It's something that Tehama County took away from me,'' she said. Turner's daughter is 10; her son is 6. 

Turner now owns a novelty business in Corning called Lonesome Dove — after the name fellow inmates gave Turner while incarcerated.Among the bumper stickers she sells is this one, cynically posted in the store window: ''Don't panic — there's always welfare.'' 

Reporter Kimberly Bolander can be reached at 225-8339 or at

Published on July 31, 1999, 
San Jose Mercury News (CA) 


In an unusual lawsuit targeting the tactics of a Santa Clara County prosecutor, a domestic-violence victim is suing the lawyer for false imprisonment, claiming he retaliated against her for refusing to show up to testify against her abusive husband by having her thrown into jail. 

The lawyer defends his approach as one of the few ways to successfullyprosecute a crime in which as many as nine out of 10 victims recant testimony against their abusers. 

In the suit filed Wednesday in Superior. . . 

Published on December 1, 2000, 
San Jose Mercury News (CA) 


The attorney for a man facing battery charges unveiled videotape during a preliminary hearing in court Thursday that he claims shows his client being beaten unnecessarily by Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies and attacked by a police dog. 

District attorney and sheriff's officials, though, characterized the suspect as the violent participant in the confrontation. It was only after the man punched a deputy and resisted arrest that deputies struck him with a baton and allowed the. . . 

Published on July 24, 2000, 
San Jose Mercury News (CA) 


Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy is being sued for disclosing the juvenile record of a defendant in a criminal case to a juror after the man's trial last year. 

The suit was filed by Ricky Allen McCord, now 40, who was acquitted in April 1999 of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. He alleges that Kennedy violated his privacy by unlawfully giving the juror a summary of his criminal rap sheet that included crimes going back to when he was 13. 

By law in. . . 

Published on December 22, 1999, 
San Jose Mercury News (CA) 


Former Assistant Sheriff Ruben Diaz has sued Sheriff Laurie Smith, alleging that she fired him last summer because he is Mexican-American and ran against her for sheriff.The suit, filed Monday in Santa Clara Superior Court, charges that after winning the 1998 election, Smith contrived the reorganization that cost Diaz his job to cover up her thirst for political revenge and ''bias against non-whites.''Smith, who is named in the lawsuit along with Santa Clara County, . . . 

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