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Tustin Faces $4-Million Police-Brutality Suit : Courts: A man says two officers broke his ribs when they responded to a domestic-violence call.

May 29, 1990|SHANNON SANDS

TUSTIN — The city is facing a $4-million police brutality lawsuit filed by a man who claims two officers beat him with nightsticks and broke three of his ribs as other officers restrained his wife.

Richard Page, 50, claims that Officers Jeff Blair and Russell Whitehead beat him, resulting in a concussion and multiple bruises and scrapes. In court documents, attorneys for the city and Blair deny any wrongdoing. Whitehead is not specifically named in the lawsuit, which also accuses the city, the Police Department, the police chief and other officers of improper conduct.

However, the Police Department suspended Whitehead for two weeks after the incident for not including in his report that he kicked Page, a police source said. Whitehead is appealing the suspension.

Blair and Whitehead arrived at the Page residence shortly after 5 p.m. Dec. 3, 1989, in response to a domestic-violence call from Page's wife, Trudy.

"He's never hit me, but he was being verbally abusive and had been drinking too much," Trudy Page said in an interview last week at Public Storage on Franklin Avenue, where the couple work as resident managers. "I hoped the police would come out and talk to him, calm him down."

She said she had called police one other time within the past two years, and the officers talked to her husband for about 10 minutes, coaxing him to go upstairs to bed.

According to police reports of the Dec. 3 incident, officers found Trudy Page outside on one side of the building and her husband on the other side with a bottle of brandy in his hand.

Page, who admitted that he had been drinking, entered the building with the two officers, where he claims that he was brutally beaten on the head, ribs, back and legs.

In police reports, Blair and Whitehead said that Page was yelling and that he resisted when they tried to search him for weapons, refusing to place his hands behind his back. They said they wanted to search him because Trudy Page had told the dispatcher that he had guns on the premises. According to police reports, a struggle ensued after Page refused to cooperate, and he fell against the wall, cutting his forehead on a metal cabinet.

Blair reported that Page then lunged toward Whitehead with his fists clenched.

"Fearing for my safety, I drew my baton and struck Richard approximately five to six times," Whitehead wrote in his report. "Officer Blair immediately called for emergency assistance from additional units and also began to strike Richard with his baton."

Page tells a different story. He said the officers forced him over a counter, handcuffed him and hit him on the head. But Page said they increased the force of the blows after he taunted them, saying, "I've got teen-age daughters can hit harder than that."

Trudy Page corroborates her husband's story. She claims that she was restrained just outside the door by several other officers who responded to Blair's call for help.

"I was screaming, 'Please don't kill my husband! Oh Lord, don't kill my husband!' " she said.

After Page was handcuffed, police called for paramedics to take him to Healthcare Medical Center in Tustin, where he refused treatment. Officers then cited Page for assault and battery on a peace officer and released him. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is due back in court July 17.

Page's civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, asks for at least $4 million in damages on grounds of deprivation of civil rights, excessive force and gross negligence. Page said he has been unable to work as a construction superintendent because a rib broken during the incident pops out of place if he bends over too much.

Legal responses filed by attorneys for the city and Blair say the officers were using reasonable and necessary force and were acting in self-defense in their capacity as public employees. No one from the Police Department would comment on the case.

"Because it's under litigation, we can't make any comment," Police Sgt. Brent Zicarelli said.

"People who have been drinking too much and maybe have that kind of temperament can be pretty hard to deal with," City Atty. James Rourke said. "I'm sure if you listen to Mr. Page, you'd hear one story. If you listen to the officers, you'd hear another side."

As for Whitehead's suspension, the police source said: "The chief indicated that he was suspending him for untruthfulness by omission because he didn't put in his report that he had kicked Mr. Page. The chief didn't say there was anything wrong with kicking Mr. Page, but he said omitting it from the report was an offense that merited a two-week suspension."

The source said that it was unreasonable to expect an enumeration of each blow, kick and punch in the report.

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