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The Huntington Park Police : The Wilson Case

July 06, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO

HUNTINGTON PARK — These are accounts of five of the 30 brutality claims filed against the Huntington Park Police Department in 1984 and 1985. During those two years, the 30-member department had the highest frequency of brutality claims among 11 municipal police departments in the Southeast/Long Beach area.

The warehouse at Pony Express Freight Lines was closed that Saturday afternoon in February, 1984, when Michael D. Wilson, the firm's vice president and co-owner, stopped to borrow a company car. He opened a garage door and set off a burglar alarm.

Moments later, Wilson was face to face with Police Officer Dale E. Shields, who leveled a shotgun at him.

"Freeze!" the officer said, according to a deposition by Wilson filed in Norwalk Superior Court.

What follows are two contradictory versions of the incident, based on depositions given by Wilson and police officers in Wilson's pending $5-million suit against the city.

Wearing Levi's, a sport shirt and cowboy boots, Wilson may not have looked like the typical company executive that day, but the 41-year-old businessman repeatedly tried to explain who he was and why he was at the warehouse, according to the May, 1985, deposition Wilson gave to a lawyer representing the city.

Wilson said he gave the officer his wallet, two sets of keys and a phone number of a company official who could verify his identity. The officer's response was, "Shut up or I'll shut you up," Wilson's deposition states.

When the officer instructed Wilson to move to the rear of a police car and "spread eagle," Wilson said he got mad and uttered an obscenity aimed at the officer.

Shields then charged Wilson with his baton raised, saying, "You little thieves aren't going to get away with this," according to Wilson's deposition. The officer swung his night stick at Wilson's head, striking Wilson's arm--which was raised as a shield--and breaking Wilson's wrist, Wilson said. The officer then threw Wilson to the ground, the deposition states.

Kicks in Face

As that happened, other officers arrived and Wilson was handcuffed by one while another stood over him with a foot on his back. Without provocation, Wilson said, the officers began kicking him in the face, thighs and ribs. The blows opened a one-inch cut above Wilson's left eye that left a puddle of blood, Wilson said.

One officer yanked Wilson's head up by the hair and said, " 'Here mother . . . have some of your own blood,' " Wilson said in the deposition, adding "he shoved me right back into my blood and then with that it split open the chin."

Wilson said he suffered a concussion and briefly lost consciousness. He was taken to the Huntington Park Jail, where he sat bleeding for 90 minutes and was refused medical attention, he said.

No charges were filed against Wilson.

Shields' version of the incident, detailed in a deposition made to Wilson's lawyer, is that Wilson identified himself to the officer and said "I'm not (an obscenity) criminal, I'm the owner." Wilson, according to Shields, acted belligerently, throwing his wallet at the police car. Wilson then refused to be frisked, telling the officer, "You're just (an obscenity) cop," before walking away.

Running Away

Lustig said in his deposition that he arrived as Wilson was running away from Shields along Laura Street. He said he grabbed Wilson and both fell to the ground, where Wilson squirmed in an attempt to resist being handcuffed. Lustig denied beating or kicking Wilson.

According to depositions taken in the case, other officers present included Michael Perry, Jonathan Nerlinger and Desmond Fitzgerald. In his deposition, Perry said he arrived while Wilson was grappling with Shields and Lustig. Perry said he held Wilson down by placing his knee on Wilson's upper back. Wilson was bleeding from the head and mouth at the time, the officer said, but he denied kicking or beating Wilson.

Nerlinger and Fitzgerald said that they were present but did not participate in Wilson's arrest.

Huntington Park Police Chief Geano Contessotto defended his officers, saying Wilson was a "potential suspect in a burglary situation." Wilson initiated the altercation because he "refused to respond to the reasonable requests of the officer, and became hostile . . . and started walking away," the chief said in an interview.

"There is absolutely no way we would have struck first," the chief said. "Any aggressive act that would have originated the confrontation would have come from him."

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