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Westminster Family Sues in Fatal Shooting

October 12, 1988|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

The family of Frank Martinez, who was shot to death by Westminster police during a birthday party for his mother, filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that police violated Martinez's civil rights, a family attorney said.

While the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, does not specify damages, the family is seeking about $110 million, alleging violation of civil rights, negligence, assault and battery on family members and intentional infliction of emotional distress, said the family's attorney, Jose Zorrilla Jr.

"That amount is the figure that was set forth in our claims, which were rejected earlier by Westminster," Zorrilla said.

Police Declined Comment on Suit

Westminster police declined comment on the lawsuit, saying that it is a matter of "pending litigation," and therefore they are unable to comment, said Officer Tom Broderson, a police spokesman.

Martinez was shot during an incident involving three police officers and several members of the Martinez family.

Police have maintained that Martinez, 18, and an angry mob attacked three officers during a July 15 birthday party for Martinez's mother in the back yard of the Martinez residence. The officers said the attack occurred after police tried to question Joel Martinez Jr., a brother of the dead man, about a gang incident in the neighborhood.

Police have refused to name the three officers, including the one who shot Martinez, and did not sway from that position Tuesday.

But Officer Steve Phillips was identified in the lawsuit as the one responsible for shooting Martinez.

"We're not going to confirm" that identification, Broderson said, adding that the refusal was prompted by pending litigation.

"We have several officers who have last names of Phillips working for our department. (But) we have no comment to make until the case is adjudicated," he said.

Plaintiffs include Martinez's estate and 10 family members. Defendants are Phillips, the city and other unnamed police officers.

Police have said Martinez was shot when he charged an officer with a beer bottle, but the family has disputed that account, saying Martinez, who was unarmed, was shot trying to get up and flee.

Police initially said they were prevented from disclosing the identities of the officers because the incident was under investigation by the district attorney's office. A subsequent Orange County Grand Jury investigation resulted in no indictments against officers.

Zorrilla said he has gotten no response to a letter he wrote grand jury foreman James O. Lindberg last week, requesting a special prosecutor and investigator for the case.

Lindberg said in an interview that the grand jury's first opportunity to meet and discuss Zorrilla's letter had come Tuesday.

"We received the letter Oct. 6, last Thursday," he said. "The jury did not meet on the 7th or the 10th. And the answer is being drafted now and won't be released until Wednesday."

Zorrilla said the family decided to file the lawsuit in federal court because it eliminates what he called a conflict of interest between the district attorney's office and the grand jury.

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