SAN DIEGO CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY MARY FRANCES PREVOST WINS $400,000 SETTLEMENT FOR CLIENT AGAINST CHULA VISTA POLICE OFFICER
By Mark Arner
July 29, 2008
K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune
Chula Vista has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former senior at Otay Ranch High School. He contended police mistook him for a trailer thief in January 2006, then handcuffed and knocked him unconscious in his family's driveway.
Christian Morales, now 20, said in a federal lawsuit that Chula Vista police Officer Moises Rodriguez violated his civil rights.
Morales said he suffered a concussion in the beating, sprained his back and suffered muscle spasms in his legs.
Morales amended the lawsuit in March, alleging that four Chula Vista police officers had stalked and harassed him in January because of the litigation.
Peter L. Garchie, an attorney representing Rodriguez, confirmed the settlement had been approved in federal court Friday. Garchie said Rodriguez remains employed as a Chula Vista police officer.
Attorney Mary Frances Prevost, who represents Morales, said the settlement would help Morales move on with his life and allow him to stop worrying.
Much of the settlement will be needed to pay medical bills for physical and psychological damage that police caused, Prevost said.
“When we walked into court Friday, Christian was shaking and tears were rolling off his eyelashes,” she said. “He kept telling me, 'Just make it go away.' And we did. We made the litigation go away.”
In accepting the $400,000 payment, Morales agreed to dismiss all lawsuits against police and other city employees linked to the incident.
Interim City Attorney Bart Miesfeld, who represented Chula Vista and 10 other officers listed as defendants, said yesterday that minor issues still needed to be negotiated, but he declined to say what they were.
A city spokeswoman could not say yesterday how the settlement would be paid.
The incident occurred Jan. 30, 2006, as Chula Vista police were looking for a Latino male in a brown pickup who had stolen a flatbed trailer.
When Morales pulled into his driveway in a brown 2003 GMC pickup, Rodriguez confronted him.
Morales said he did nothing wrong and tried to follow Rodriguez's orders. He said when he opened the driver's door to get out, Rodriguez threatened him with a Taser, jerked him from the pickup and handcuffed him.
Morales said the officer then knocked him to the concrete driveway.
“He somehow jumped on me and proceeded to beat me on the head with a hard object and yelled, 'Where is the (expletive) trailer?' ” Morales said in a 2007 interview.
Rodriguez has denied any wrongdoing and contended in court papers that any injuries claimed by Morales “were caused directly and proximately by (Morales') own negligence, fault, recklessness, or unlawful conduct.”