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City Fined for Not Turning Over Evidence

Courts: A deputy city attorney failed to provide key memos in a lawsuit filed against the LAPD.


A Superior Court judge has fined the city of Los Angeles $22,732.50 because a deputy city attorney representing the LAPD failed to turn over information that might have bolstered the civil rights case of a man shot by police, authorities said Friday.

Even before the judge handed down the sanction last week, city attorney officials said they had launched an investigation into the conduct of Deputy City Atty. Rodell R. Fick.

"We are very serious that our attorneys comply with the rules of the court," said Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the city attorney's office.

The sanctions against Fick grew out of his role in defending the Los Angeles Police Department from a lawsuit filed by Steven Short, a television stage worker. Short was wounded during an encounter that began with a beer can thrown at an off-duty officer's car and ended when police burst into a home without a warrant and shot Short.

Short accused police of violating his civil rights. Although he and a guest in his home were awarded $200,000 for unlawful detention, jurors ruled against Short's civil rights claim, and his lawyer sought a new trial.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau granted that request last month because Fick failed to provide Short's lawyer with two memos drafted by the LAPD's inspector general that were highly critical of the officers' conduct in the Feb. 8, 1999, shooting.

In one of the memos, Inspector General Jeffrey C. Eglash questioned the legality of the officers' actions when they hunted down a man who had thrown a half-empty beer can at an off-duty officer's car. Eglash called the incident a "freelance operation" by officers and recommended that a report be sent to the U.S. attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

Short's attorney, Carol Watson, said his civil case against the officers was over when she read about the inspector general's documents in an article in The Times in May.

Fick stated in court and in sworn declarations that he was unaware that the documents existed when the case went to trial. He failed to discover them, Fick said, because he did not view the inspector general's office as being part of the Police Department and therefore did not seek files from the office.

Watson's request for documents stated that she wanted material from the city's Police Commission as well as the department. The inspector general reports to the commission.

Although the judge said he was unable to determine whether the withheld documents would have changed the outcome of the trial, he said the mere fact that they were not provided resulted in the plaintiff being denied a fair trial.

In addition to the fine, Dau ordered the city Friday to pay Watson's legal fees, which totaled $128,835. The judge also gave Watson permission to take the sworn depositions of Fick and his investigator to determine "the truthfulness of the statements" they made when claiming they had turned over all relevant information before trial.

According to police and court documents, the shooting of Short was the culmination of an LAPD investigation into a traffic incident in which a passenger in a car--for no apparent reason--threw a beer can at an off-duty officer's vehicle.

Chad Butler, the off-duty officer, noted the license plate of the car and drove to the Foothill police station to report the encounter. Officers David Hance and Jeffrey Nuttall were sent to investigate. Butler, even though he was off duty, joined them.

Within minutes, their investigation led to a Mission Hills house where the passenger, Travis Garlits, was watching television with his friends. As the officers approached the residence, they said they noticed the front door slightly ajar.

Hance knocked on the door, which caused it to swing open. The officers identified themselves as police and ordered Garlits and his friends to the floor.

It was at that point, according to police reports, that Officer Michael Patton, who was assisting the other officers, heard a noise coming from one of the bedrooms. Patton said he identified himself as a police officer and knocked on the bedroom door. Short opened the door, armed with a shotgun.

Patton shouted at Short to drop the shotgun just as Short placed his finger on the trigger and began moving the barrel upward, the police report states. Allegedly fearing for his life, Patton shot Short, striking him in the hip.

After the shooting, Short told police he was awakened by the commotion in his house and had grabbed his weapon to investigate.

In his reports, Eglash noted that the official police account is significantly at odds with those given by other witnesses.

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