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Supreme Court Rules in W. Covina Case : Jury Trial OKd in Kidnap Suit

February 11, 1988|ERIC WILHELMUS | Times Staff Writer

A state Supreme Court ruling has paved the way for a jury trial in a $10-million lawsuit in which a father has charged the West Covina Police Department with negligence that contributed to his 10-year-old son's death.

West Covina had asked the Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeal ruling allowing the trial to take place. But last week, the high court let the ruling stand.

The suit involves the death of Ronald Tolleson Jr., who was found dead in a neighbor's garage a week after he had been kidnaped from his West Covina home in 1980. The boy's father, Ronald A. Tolleson, has charged that the West Covina Police Department was negligent in its handling of the case.

Tolleson is "very pleased" with the high court's decision, said his attorney, Charles C. Simon.

Attorney Thomas J. Feeley, who represents West Covina and sought the reversal, said the city was "disappointed, but not surprised with the ruling."

"But we continue to be quite hopeful of a verdict in favor of the defense."

The trial will begin in Pomona Superior Court in about two months, Feeley said.

The case began March 24, 1980, when Tolleson returned home from work at 4 p.m. He planned to drive his son to baseball practice, but Ronnie was not at home. Tolleson drove around the neighborhood looking for the boy, but could not find him.

After he returned home, Tolleson received three phone calls from a man who said he had the boy and would release him in exchange for $3,000. After receiving the first phone call, Tolleson called the police.

Under their direction, Tolleson delivered $100--all the money he could raise--to the park the caller had specified. Although the police had the area under surveillance, they did not apprehend the person who picked up the money.

The police began searching the neighborhood that night. They found Ronnie's body a week later in the garage of a neighbor, Danny Jerome Young. The medical examiners concluded that Ronnie had probably been alive for at least three days after the abduction took place.

Young, a former Youth Authority inmate who was on parole after serving a one-year sentence for robbery, was convicted in 1982 of second-degree murder in the Tolleson case and is serving a life sentence without chance of parole.

In 1981, Tolleson filed a civil case charging negligence against West Covina. It came before Pomona Superior Court Judge Arthur Baldonado in 1986. At West Covina's request, the judge declared the case a "non-suit"--a ruling that means the plaintiff had insufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial. Tolleson appealed, and the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed the "non-suit" decision by a 2-1 vote.

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