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Anaheim OKs Settlement in Biofem Arrest

Surgeon questioned in the attempted murder of Irvine firm's founder accepts nearly $500,000.

October 10, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

Anaheim city officials have agreed to pay nearly $500,000 to a surgeon who accused police of roughing him up while being questioned in connection with the attempted murder of an Irvine biotech executive and the suicide of another.

The settlement was paid to Dr. Jerry D. Nilsson, who was initially considered a principal figure in the attempt to kill James Patrick Riley, chief executive of Biofem Inc. On Feb. 28, 2000, Riley was shot in the face outside his Irvine Spectrum office.

Nilsson was a longtime friend and hunting partner of Dr. Larry C. Ford, who co-founded the firm with Riley. Police suspected Ford of masterminding the attempt to kill Riley in order to keep for himself the profits from the company's breakthrough medical products. Ford killed himself the day after police searched his home.

Nilsson was sought for questioning in the case. Fearing he was dangerous, Anaheim police used a ruse to draw him out of the Anaheim home he shared with his girlfriend and her three children. Witnesses said that when he emerged, Nilsson was wrestled to the ground by five law enforcement agents and handcuffed.

SWAT officers and a hazardous-materials team scoured his home and found nothing related to the investigation. He was questioned by Irvine police, who said Nilsson had a medical complaint during questioning.

Nilsson was not arrested and was ruled out as the gunman. Medical officials said Nilsson's hospitalization was not a result of any physical injury he may have suffered in his encounter with police.

Nilsson sued the city for damages, and Anaheim officials confirmed Thursday that the case had been settled with no admission of wrongdoing by the city.

Anaheim City Atty. Jack White said officials considered the cost of litigation, including deposing dozens of Anaheim and Irvine police employees and FBI agents.

"It made sense to settle [the case] because of the potential exposure when you look at the attorneys fees," White said. "A lot of time has been spent on both sides of this."

Neither Nilsson nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

FBI agents investigating the case found caches of weapons and drugs buried in the backyard of Ford's Irvine home, and investigators discovered that Ford had been involved with South Africa's apartheid-era biochemical warfare program.

The gunman has never been identified. Two years ago, Dino D'Saachs, a Los Angeles businessman and longtime friend of Ford's, was convicted of being the getaway driver.

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