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Man Shot by Deputy Awarded $2 Million

September 16, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County must pay more than $2 million in damages to a Fillmore man shot in the back by a rookie sheriff's deputy two years ago as the man tried to disarm his intoxicated son at a wedding reception, a jury ruled Monday.

The verdict came after a day of deliberations in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where retired Fillmore police officer Anthony Morales, 54, sued the county for violating his civil rights and demanded compensation for injuries sustained in the May 2000 shooting.

In July, jurors held Deputy Tonya Herbst, 31, liable for battery, negligence and civil rights violations after concluding that she used excessive force when she shot Morales as he wrestled a gun away from his son, Chad. The panel awarded $2,073,000 in compensatory damages following a separate damages phase that began last week.

The seven-member jury deadlocked 5 to 2 on whether to award punitive damages, said Marina del Rey attorney Peter Williamson, who represents the elder Morales.

During the trial, Oxnard defense attorney Alan Wisotsky told jurors that Herbst believed her life and the safety of others were in danger when she saw the younger Morales raising the gun. He argued that Morales had not disarmed his son and had moved into the path of the bullet during a struggle for control of the weapon.

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