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Torrance to Pay $1.1 Million in Police Brutality Suit Settlement

August 23, 1990|JANET RAE-DUPREE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Torrance will pay $1.1 million to a Carson man who sued the Torrance Police Department, claiming officers broke his neck with a billy club.

The settlement came Wednesday as attorneys prepared to conduct opening arguments in the case in Torrance Superior Court.

Francisco Yuri is to receive $500,000 immediately, $100,000 in one year and $500,000 in monthly payments over a 15-year period beginning one year from now, City Atty. Kenneth Nelson said.

The monthly payments will amount to about $2,778.

Most of the lump-sum payments will go toward attorneys' fees and the costs of calling expert witnesses, Nelson said.

Because of a confidentiality agreement included in the settlement, neither side would further discuss the case or say why it was settled.

Yuri's broken neck has healed without leaving any permanent physical disability. The former carpenter said in court papers that the pain and financial problems caused by the two broken vertebrae in his neck sent him into a deep depression. He has attempted suicide four times and has been under intensive psychiatric treatment.

Yuri's attorney, Stephen Gray, sought $5 million in damages in the suit, but later reduced the demand to $2 million.

Yuri, 39, charged in his suit that officers beat him on Christmas Eve, 1986, after they had arrested him for causing a traffic accident while allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.

Although a jury later acquitted Yuri of drunk driving charges, Gray stipulated in Yuri's civil case against the department that Yuri had been drinking that night and that he had caused the accident. Gray said, however, that neither of those facts justified the officers' alleged treatment of Yuri.

Briefs filed by attorneys for the Police Department said officers never used billy clubs on Yuri and did nothing to harm him.

Police reports say Officers Timothy Treher, Edward Webb and Robert Kammerer arrested Yuri at the scene of a 4:50 p.m. traffic accident at Hickory Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard after he began swearing at them and struck Treher in the face.

In a trial brief, Gray contended that Treher was struck after he unexpectedly shoved Yuri, causing Yuri to turn and accidentally knock Treher's glasses from his face.

Nurses and paramedics who saw Yuri at Little Company of Mary Hospital, where the officers took him to draw a blood sample for the drunk driving charge, said he showed no sign of injury at that time.

Later, Yuri was placed, handcuffed, in a police squad car for the trip to the Torrance city jail.

Gray said in his brief that Yuri is not sure whether officers beat him while he was being taken from the accident scene to the hospital, or later, while he was being moved from the hospital to the Torrance city jail.

But Yuri testified in pretrial depositions that he remembers being handcuffed in the back seat of a police car while officers struck him repeatedly on the face and neck with a "round black object."

Gray's brief contends that a photographic overlay of a large abrasion on the back of Yuri's neck matches the pattern of grooves on a police baton.

On Christmas morning, jailer Donna Houston found Yuri lying on the floor of his cell, complaining that he could not get up, according to her report.

Houston reported Yuri's complaints to the station's watch commander, Lt. Michael Dersham. According to Houston's report, Dersham told her that Yuri "does not need med attention and let him stay on floor in cell until he will get up."

Police released Yuri at 1:30 p.m. that day. He checked in at Torrance Memorial Hospital shortly before 2 p.m., where doctors concluded that two of his vertebrae were fractured, his suit said.

"Sometime between the time he was arrested and the time he was released, he sustained a broken neck," Gray said in an interview before jury selection began. "My client endured a brutal beating that was entirely inappropriate."

The Police Department has been hammered with a string of multimillion-dollar lawsuits recently.

Attorneys for the city have appealed a $7.7-million award last year in which jurors concluded that Torrance officers conspired to cover up evidence that an off-duty sergeant may have been drunk when he was involved in a 1984 fatal traffic accident.

In addition, the city has admitted liability and is conducting settlement negotiations with a man who was shot in the face by a police officer during a 1988 traffic stop. Three officers were fired for trying to cover up the accidental nature of the shooting by saying the man was reaching for a metal object when he was shot. Two pleaded no contest to criminal charges in connection with the cover-up.

And, late last year, the City Council agreed to pay $105,000 to six men who filed a brutality lawsuit against the Police Department after a friend videotaped two officers beating one of the men with a baton while breaking up a party.

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