The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department agreed Friday to pay almost $1 million to a sergeant who claimed the department retaliated against him after he ran against Sheriff Lee Baca in the 2002 elections and criticized Baca's management of healthcare in county jails, a sheriff's spokesman said.
The settlement was reached shortly after a federal jury found the department liable for retaliation in a lawsuit brought by Sgt. Patrick Gomez, 51.
Gomez said he was passed up for promotions and targeted for an internal inquiry because he was critical of Baca in the run-up to the election, in which he and another sergeant waged campaigns against the incumbent sheriff.
Gomez alleged that the retaliation started after he participated in a news conference announcing a lawsuit brought by an inmate who claimed to have lost most of his vision because jailers did not give him his medication.
Jurors deliberated about 2 1/2 hours before returning a unanimous verdict in favor of Gomez, a 28-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, according to his attorney, Joseph Avrahamy.
"We went to trial because we did not believe the department had retaliated against him," said Capt. Mike Parker of the Sheriff's Department. He added that the $950,000 sum still needs to be approved by county supervisors.
In the three-day trial, Avrahamy said that Undersheriff Larry Waldie tried to start a criminal investigation against the sergeant for his involvement in the news conference. When Gomez's name came up for promotion to lieutenant, Waldie said, "Not in my lifetime," according to Avrahamy.
Waldie took the stand during the trial and denied all the allegations, Avrahamy said.
The attorney said his client was in tears after the verdict.
"When this happened to him, it was a career-ender," Avrahamy said.
"It took the whole spirit out of him."