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Irvine, Santa Ana Officers Cleared in Civil Rights Case

September 23, 1993|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — An Orange County jury decided Wednesday that a group of police officers from Irvine and Santa Ana did not violate the civil rights of a motorist who accused them of beating him during a traffic stop in 1987.

Early in the case, the lawyer for plaintiff Reginald R. Rainey, who is black, had likened the incident to the beating of Rodney G. King, but Superior Court Judge Randell L. Wilkinson prohibited attorneys from mentioning King's name during the trial.

While some jurors said they had reservations about the officers' conduct, they voted 10-2 in favor of both city police departments, and 12-0 in favor of Irvine Officer David Mihalik, who had pulled over Rainey.

"I feel vindicated, very elated," Mihalik said.

Rainey, obviously agitated, called the verdicts a "great wrong" and "a great miscarriage of justice."

Moments after the verdicts were announced, four bailiffs approached him, arrested him anew on two outstanding warrants, and placed him in handcuffs.

Court officials said Rainey was being held on warrants issued in 1992 when he failed to appear in court to answer citations for allegedly driving with a suspended license and for allegedly possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.

Rainey's attorney, William S. Hulsy, called the courtroom arrest a "sad end" to the proceeding.

In his lawsuit, Rainey charged that as many as 10 officers from Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin kicked him and beat him with nightsticks in the 1987 incident, after he was stopped for speeding at the Edinger Avenue off-ramp of the Costa Mesa Freeway. After pleading guilty to disturbing the peace, the 42-year-old salesman, who now lives in Hemet, was placed on probation.

By the time the jury got the case, the city of Tustin and most of the officers Rainey said were at the scene had been dropped from the suit. After less than three hours of deliberations, the jury issued its verdicts.

"We all had strong feelings about this case," said Lee A. Wood, who represented the city of Irvine and Mihalik, adding that the city never made a settlement offer. Wood said there was no similarity between what happened to Rainey and what happened to King.

Richard V. Frazier, the jury foreman, said a key factor in their decision was the lack of medical evidence regarding Rainey's alleged injuries.

"We believed there was some (police) misconduct," said Frazier, 47, of Fullerton. But that was based on a "gut feeling," rather than direct evidence, he said. "Someone might have hit him once or twice, but we don't know who it was."

Another juror, Manuel Silveira, 29, of Mission Viejo, said he was also concerned about what happened in the course of the arrest.

Silveira, one of two jurors who voted against the cities of Irvine and Santa Ana, said he felt that "there was something going on there, but I don't know what it was."

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