A Redondo Beach merchant who became the target of a lawsuit after he tipped police to a drug laboratory in a neighbor's apartment has filed suit against the Torrance Police Department, charging that six officers lied under oath about the drug case.
Phillip Coleman, 39, filed suit in Los Angeles federal court this week, charging that the officers bungled their investigation and violated his civil rights in a complex sequence of events after he called them on Sept. 4, 1985, to report a strong smell of ether in his apartment.
The suit, which says Coleman has suffered more than $300,000 in damages in the last five years, names the Police Department and the city of Torrance, as well as Officers Frederick Louck, Douglas Duckson, Gary LaCroix, Richard Allen, Matt Pries and Al Trumble.
It charges the defendants with civil rights violations, negligence, misrepresentation, fraud and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Torrance City Atty. Kenneth Nelson said he believes Coleman's lawsuit will not be successful.
"To a very great extent, he's just simply not telling the truth," Nelson said. "It's a terribly litigious world we're in today. It will just cost a lot of money, but we will win in the end."
Coleman, who was later sued by the suspects in the drug case, said in a telephone interview that he filed his suit in part to recover the money he has lost defending himself and in part to force the Torrance Police Department to change the way it deals with informants.
"They took advantage of my ignorance of police procedure and the law, and they were using me as a scapegoat for their own mistakes," he said. "What they did to me could be done to anybody. . . . It is not the proper message to send to the public that they will be forced to bear the brunt of police incompetence and outright fraud."
Coleman said his troubles have nearly cost him his clothing store and the computerized library on the Vietnam War that he has created. They began, he said, with a tip to police when he came home to find a strong smell of ether in his Paseo de la Concha apartment.
Acting on this information, police raided the apartment below Coleman's and found drugs, more than $7,000 cash and 700 ounces of pure silver.
The apartment's residents, David and Elizabeth Blanco, were arrested, along with their teen-age son and two visitors. The Blancos pleaded not guilty, saying the drugs belonged to their visitors.
Eventually, the case against the Blancos was thrown out of court because police failed to get a search warrant before entering the apartment. The Blancos later sued Coleman, alleging that Coleman had wiretapped their telephone and violated their privacy.
A judge ordered Coleman to pay $25,500 but later reduced the amount to $8,500. The judgment was later set aside, and the Blancos have appealed that decision.