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2 awarded $4.5 million in police suit

April 15, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Two members of a Bell Gardens family who said police beat them at a Halloween costume party in 2005 have been awarded a $4.5-million civil rights judgment, their attorneys said Monday.

Gerardo Cazares, 30, and his father-in-law, Manuel Moreno, 46, had alleged that Bell Gardens officers who responded to a complaint of loud music at the party beat them without provocation, shot them with pepper spray and fired a beanbag gun at such close range that the older man was left with a permanent chest scar.

"Mr. Cazares was repeatedly kicked, punched, hit with batons and then shot in the back with a beanbag gun," attorney Glen T. Jonas said. "Mr. Moreno comes outside . . . they grabbed his arms like a crucifixion and shot him in the chest with the beanbag gun. He drops to the ground thinking he has been really executed. Then he realizes he is alive because he is being beaten by batons."

At the conclusion of a federal civil rights trial Friday, jurors ordered the Bell Gardens Police Department and five officers to pay the men $3.2 million in general damages and $1.3 million in punitive damages. Neither Bell Gardens police officials nor attorneys on the case returned telephone calls seeking comment.

The incident occurred Oct. 30, 2005, as police tried to shut down a Halloween party in the 5700 block of Cecelia Street.

The city insisted that police officers acted appropriately and that the two men attacked officers.

Officers arrived to find numerous fights going on, the city contended. Cazares, who was dressed as the Grim Reaper, led a large group of partygoers toward Det. Michael Cox and tried to push him out of the party, city attorneys said.

A violent struggle erupted between Cazares and Cox, and Moreno struck the detective in the head with a folding metal chair, city lawyers said. Several officers were injured, including Cox, who needed staples for his head wound, the city said. Officers eventually fired a beanbag from a shotgun to stop the fight, city lawyers argued.

But Jonas, in court, portrayed the police story as a fantasy, designed to explain away his clients' injuries.

As Cazares, an insurance salesman, tried to get partygoers to leave the frontyard, he and Cox exchanged words and then the detective punched him in the chest, Jonas said. Other officers from the Bell Gardens anti-gang unit joined in with fists, boots and batons, Jonas alleged.

Jonas said those wild blows led to the detective's head injury. Moreno, trying to stop the struggle, was hit by the beanbag and batons and was pepper-sprayed in the right eye.

Jonas said the beanbag weapon was allegedly fired from between 4 and 6 feet away, much closer than police said.

Cazares and Moreno were arrested at the scene and subsequently charged with obstructing a police officer. Cazares also was charged with resisting arrest and Moreno with assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer. The men were acquitted in April 2006 in about 45 minutes, Jonas said.

In both the criminal and civil trials, he said, authorities failed to produce a chair or evidence of a fighting mob.

"The police officers told so many different versions of the story that they weren't credible," he said.

The panel found that besides Cox, Bell Gardens Officers Sergio Tiscareno, Ricky McCraner, Rigoberto Barrios and Rene Ruiz took part in a malicious prosecution.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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