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Board Rejects Deputy's Appeal of Suspension

January 25, 1991|CAROL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura County sheriff's deputy accused of using excessive force while arresting a Camarillo man lost his bid Thursday to have a three-day suspension overturned.

In one of three rulings, the county Civil Service Commission rejected Deputy Steven Capuano's appeal of the reprimand, which stemmed from an arrest in which he allegedly jabbed a suspect in the head with a baton.

The commission also rejected appeals of terminations from former Deputy Paul Duron, who was fired for alleged incompetence, and former Deputy James Winstead, dismissed for making long-distance calls on county phones.

Ventura County Undersheriff Larry Carpenter said he was pleased that the commission found that the department had acted appropriately.

"We in the Sheriff's Department don't take any implementation of discipline or termination lightly at all," Carpenter said.

The commission ruled that Capuano violated department policy by using his baton above Michael Harvey's shoulders while arresting Harvey on suspicion of auto theft on Dec. 28, 1989.

Commissioners upheld the Sheriff's Department decision to place Capuano on a three-day suspension, which cost him $400 to $500 in pay, and retrain him in the use of a baton, said Bob Embry, commission staff adviser.

"They were concerned with possible injury and the excessive use of force," Embry said.

Capuano and Deputy Timothy Cowgill arrested Harvey and his brother, Christopher, when deputies found a truck reported stolen by their boss, Marvin McCabe Jr., across the street from the Harveys' house.

Harvey and his brother were never booked or charged, officials said. The brothers subsequently filed a civil rights suit alleging police brutality against Capuano, Cowgill, the Sheriff's Department, Ventura County and McCabe.

Capuano, who continues as a patrol officer in Camarillo, said Thursday that the commission's decision against him opens the county up to further liability in the lawsuit by agreeing that he was guilty of wrongdoing.

Capuano said he used only the force necessary for the situation. But Capuano said it is unlikely that he will appeal the commission decision or file a lawsuit to overturn the action--the two options officials said may be taken after appeals are denied.

"I'm just glad this whole matter was concluded," Capuano said.

The commission also upheld the termination of Duron, 28, for alleged incompetence and inefficiency. The commission found that Duron failed to successfully complete his patrol training, Embry said.

During the commission hearing, Duron's superiors criticized everything from his judgment in determining whether a suspect was suicidal to his ability to read maps.

During the hearing, Duron questioned the accuracy of some of the reports that led to his firing and cited mistakes allegedly made by his teachers. He also contends that prejudice may have played a part in his termination.

Embry said the commission did not find evidence of racially motivated statements toward Duron, who is a Latino.

Duron, who is working as an assistant baseball coach at Santa Monica High School, said he would still like to be reinstated as a deputy and will appeal the commission's decision. "I plan on taking it as far as I can," he said.

The commission also agreed with the department's termination of Winstead on Aug. 16, Embry said. Winstead allegedly made 794 personal, long-distance calls from county phones, racking up $739.13 in telephone bills during conversations to Phoenix between July 16, 1989, and May 1, 1990.

Winstead argued that there were mitigating circumstances. He said he made the calls to check on his wife, who was living in Arizona. Winstead said she was diagnosed with hepatitis, had a miscarriage, was involved in an automobile accident and lost a relative to cancer.

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