Wednesday, September 18, 2002
County Settles With Woman Who Claims Deputies Harassed, Framed Her
By LORELEI LAIRD, Staff Writer
The county Claims Board has voted to settle a lawsuit brought by a woman who said sheriff’s deputies harassed her in retaliation for her claim that her finance, also a deputy, had beaten her.
The panel approved paying Veronica Guzman $50,000 for physical and mental pain suffered at the hands of deputies between 1999 and the present. The total cost of the case to the county is expected to be $79,767.57.
County counsel estimates that a court might award Guzman as much as $250,000 if the case goes to trial.
The claim stems from a report Guzman filed with the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division on Oct. 8, 1998, alleging that her fiancé—Deputy Mark Velez—had beaten her.
On March 4, 1999, her complaint said, deputies broke into her home without a warrant and arrested Guzman for child endangerment while she was on the toilet.
Deputies claimed her young son was standing in a room strewn with broken glass. Guzman contended there was no broken glass in the apartment.
The complaint further said that after an altercation between deputies and Guzman’s sister, Guzman spat at a deputy and was pepper sprayed in the face while handcuffed. She was not provided with medical treatment while in custody, she said.
Later in that same year, the complaint said, Guzman became involved with another deputy, J.J. Garcia, who she said did not tell her he was married. After she became pregnant by him and refused to get an abortion, she alleges, Garcia told her the child endangerment charges would “go away if she got an abortion.”
In June of 1999, deputies arrested Guzman and her sister for filing a false police report as they were buying milk at a convenience store. Guzman’s attorney, Luis Carrillo, said those charges stemmed from verbal statements the women made to deputies during the March 4 incident, rather than actual police reports, and were made in an attempt to further harass Guzman.
“They made her seem like a dangerous criminal, arrested her with six deputies outside of the market, hauled her into a different court on a different warrant,” Carrillo said. “The [child endangerment] charge was totally false, and it was dismissed in court.”
The board also voted to recommend settling with San Francisco resident Tracey Rosenberg, who said she was strip searched twice and unlawfully held after being arrested at a protest of police corruption outside the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Station. Rosenberg’s claim said the women from this protest, but not the men, were strip searched, “with the intent to humiliate and embarrass” them. She also contends that deputies unlawfully detained her for more than eight hours, and performed the second search, after she was ordered released. The claims board recommended awarding her $150,000.
This lawsuit comes on the heels of several suits contending that deputies improperly strip searched detainees, including a pregnant woman who said the search caused her such distress that she went into false labor twice. By law, deputies may only strip search detainees brought in for felonies, drug offenses or violent crimes, and when there is a reasonable suspicion that the detainee is carrying drugs or weapons. The sheriff’s department has rewritten its policies on strip searching to clarify them and comply with state law, county documents said.
The county claims board approves settlement of claims up to $100,000. Recommendations to settle claims above that amount are sent to the county board of supervisors for approval.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company