Tuesday, July 17, 2001
Panel Recommends County Pay $335,000 to Settle False-Arrest Claims
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A county panel yesterday recommended paying $335,000 in two separate claims of misconduct against the Sheriff’s Department, just two weeks after the county closed the books on a year in which claims outpaced the department’s budget by more than $5 million.
Included in yesterday’s recommendation was a $295,000 payment to a man whose conviction on a count of cocaine possession with intent to sell was reversed.
Sheriff’s Department actions have cost the county an estimated $26,481,756 over the past two fiscal years in claims, settlements, and judgments approved by the claims board and the county Board of Supervisors.
In the past two years, liability payouts have exceeded the budgeted amount by an average of $6 million, according to an April 2 report submitted to county Supervisor Gloria Molina by Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen.
The 2001-2002 budget has set aside a total of $10,366,000 for settlements, claims, and judgements against the sheriff’s department.
Members of the Board of Supervisors could not be immediately reached for comment.
Calvin Newburn and Sue Ellen Torres were awarded, in separate settlements, a total of $335,000 by the board for claims they were falsely arrested and imprisoned for charges brought against them without probable cause.
Newburn’s attorney, Leo Terrell, said the treatment his client received from the sheriff’s department is not atypical.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Terrell said. “There needs to be a larger spotlight put on the problems the Sheriff’s department has.”
The settlement recommendations come less than a week after the county Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a wrongful-death claim involving Victor Cox, Sr., a Lakewood man who died from “excited delirium and cocaine intoxication,” after being hogtied by sheriff’s deputies.
Newburn, a second-strike offender, served 27 months in state prison on the drug charge before the California Court of Appeal overturned his conviction, citing inconsistent testimony given by the sheriff’s deputies who arrested him.
On Jan. 22, 1997 Lennox deputies of the Community Oriented Policing Team, responding to neighborhood complaints about narcotics transactions, conducted a surveillance of 111th Street.
During the surveillance the deputies saw Newburn approaching motorists who slowed to speak to him before driving away and returning after Newburn retrieved objects hidden under a nearby truck. Deputies testified that Newburn then stuck his hand inside a window of the vehicle and returned to the sidewalk.
After observing this pattern 4-6 times, but without seeing any actual narcotics being distributed, deputies detained Newburn and retrieved base rock cocaine from beneath the same parked car where he had been seen going back and forth.
Newburn was arrested and charged with possession of base cocaine for sale.
During trial, Newburn and several other witnesses testified that Newburn was not involved in the sale of narcotics and that deputies threatened to plant evidence on him if he didn’t stop complaining about his detention.
“Probable cause to arrest is based upon the totality of circumstances presented to sheriff’s deputies at the time they are required to act,” according to a claims board report.
Conflicting testimony given by sheriff’s deputies during Newburn’s criminal trial and the reversal of Newburn’s conviction prompted county counsel to recommend a settlement, Assistant County Counsel Lou Aguilar said.
“There is always the possibility when a case goes to a jury that the judgement would be higher than the amount we would offer in a settlement,” Aguilar said.
Lawyers for both sides underwent an extensive negotiation process in order to arrive at the $295,000 settlement sum, Aguilar said.
The claims board, in closed session, also awarded Torres $40,000 to settle her claim that she was falsely arrested and imprisoned.
Details of the settlement have yet to be finalized, Aguilar said.
In pleadings in U.S. District Court, Torres claimed that while shopping at a Norwalk Costco for her son’s birthday cake and dinner, an off-duty Sheriff’s deputy suddenly grabbed her neck and accused Torres of stealing her purse.
While Torres claimed that she had mistakenly pushed the deputy’s cart for a few feet, she held the deputy, Mary Campbell, and additional deputies who responded to the scene at the insistence of Campbell, ignored information provided by store security which demonstrated she had not committed a crime.
Torres claimed that Campbell “used her position as a sergeant with the sheriff’s department” to persuade the responding deputies to arrest her. Torres was charged with petty theft and spent the night in jail.
The Sheriff’s Department would not comment on the settlements at this time, a department spokesman said.
Final approval of Newburn’s settlement will go before the Board of Supervisors July 31, Terrell said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company