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Mistrial in gay parade lawsuit

Jurors could not reach a verdict for San Diego firefighters who say they were harassed.

October 07, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A judge declared a mistrial Monday in the case of four San Diego firefighters who alleged that they were sexually harassed during the 2007 gay pride parade.

Jurors deliberated for four days before telling San Diego County Superior Court Judge Michael Anello that they were unable to reach a verdict. One juror told reporters that the jury was split 8 to 4 in favor of the firefighters, one vote short of the nine needed to decide a civil case.

The firefighters "were put in a situation that went against their morals," said juror Helene Matthews, who voted in their favor.

Anello set Jan. 16 for a possible retrial.

"For me, I believe it was a win because we stood up for what we believe in," firefighter John Ghiotto said. "It was never about any money."

Ghiotto and three other firefighters alleged that their rights were violated when they were ordered to drive their truck in the parade despite their protests. They testified that they were subjected to taunts and sexual catcalls during the 90-minute parade in the Hillcrest neighborhood, which has a large gay population.

The fire chief, police chief, county sheriff, district attorney and several police officers and firefighters marched in the parade in advance of the truck.

The firefighters' attorney, Charles LiMandri, told jurors in his closing argument that each firefighter deserves between $500,000 and $1 million.

"I believe we will ultimately prevail," LiMandri said after Anello declared a mistrial.

City Atty. Michael Aguirre, defending the Fire Department, said the four deserved nothing because they failed to prove that they had suffered any lasting damage. After the lawsuit was filed, Fire Chief Tracy Jarman changed department policy to make participation in parades voluntary.

Although unable to decide on the harassment allegation, the jury did reject by an 11 to 1 vote a claim by one of the firefighters, Jason Hewitt, that he received a negative job review in retaliation for the lawsuit.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Neal Putnam contributed to this report.

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