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L.A. County to pay couple $650,000 in altercation

A man and woman accused of assaulting two sheriff's deputies in Compton in 2008 alleged that the deputies had actually assaulted them. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against the couple.

August 03, 2011|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

On trial for allegedly assaulting two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, Erick Hoxey took the witness stand in his own defense and told jurors it was the other way around.

He said he was waiting in his car outside a Compton apartment building where his girlfriend was making an appointment to braid a little girl's hair, when deputies pulled up. After asking him a few questions, Hoxey said they inexplicably yanked him out of the car, punched him and struck him with a flashlight before pepper-spraying his eyes and inside his mouth.

Then, he said, one grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head twice against the pavement.

The prosecutor, troubled by the young man's testimony, cut him off suddenly and asked the judge for a recess. When he returned an hour and a half later, the prosecutor announced that all charges were being dropped.

On Tuesday, two years after the criminal case fizzled, the county agreed to pay Hoxey, now 24, and his girlfriend $650,000.

The payout comes despite the Sheriff's Department defending the deputies' conduct in arresting Hoxey, his girlfriend, Shatwan Smith, and a bystander who came to their aid during the April 2008 altercation.

According to Deputies Samuel Orozco and Scott Giles, they were on patrol when they spotted Hoxey driving with his seatbelt off. The deputies said Hoxey was immediately aggressive, cursing at them, before reaching under his leg for what they believed was a handgun. The deputies unlocked the car door and pulled Hoxey out of the vehicle. The young man then spun around and took a swing at them, according to the deputies' account. Hoxey continued to fight back, the deputies said, while his girlfriend ran out from the apartment building and began hitting them too.

Although the deputies said they believed Hoxey was armed with a gun, no weapon was recovered. Deputy Orozco testified that a woman at the scene, who did not identify herself because she feared retribution, told him that she saw a man run and grab something from the car, presumably the weapon.

The couple, and the bystander who interceded and pleaded with the deputies to stop, denied the deputies were assaulted.

After hearing the conflicting testimony about the incident, the L.A. County district attorney's office abandoned its prosecution of Hoxey and Smith.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric Siddall said in a deposition that Hoxey's testimony "made me think that there was reasonable doubt in the case."

The couple's civil attorney, Glen Jonas, accused the deputies of framing Hoxey on charges of resisting arrest and drug possession and Smith of resisting arrest and assault. Giles said he found a cocaine rock in Hoxey's car, while he and other deputies were searching the vehicle.

"It ruined their lives," Jonas said of the ordeal. He said Smith, who was a student at UC San Diego at the time, "was so distraught over being falsely prosecuted that she couldn't concentrate in school…her grades fell and ultimately she wasn't able to stay in school."

During the trial, Orozco's past on-duty behavior was also scrutinized in testimony from residents in the area who said they had run-ins with him. One woman said he used the N-word against her. Another testified that she'd also been roughed up by Orozco, booked and was eventually acquitted.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore declined to comment on specific allegations but said the department maintains the couple was resisting arrest. "This settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing," he said. "Deputies don't make stuff up, the hope is, and we contend they did not fabricate anything."

Whitmore declined to say whether the deputies' actions were found to be within department policy. He said an administrative investigation was conducted, and "appropriate action was taken."

Michael Gennaco, head of the sheriff's watchdog agency, said the two deputies were required by the department to undergo extra training after the incident.

Both deputies, Whitmore said, declined to comment.

In his deposition, Giles said he was never disciplined in connection with the incident. Both men are still with the department.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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