A former Huntington Park police officer has filed a $500,000 legal claim against the city of Los Angeles, saying he suffered "serious multiple physical injuries" after his car was hit from behind by a city-owned SUV driven by City Councilman Jose Huizar.
David Ceja, 49, said his 2002 Saturn was struck by Huizar's 2008 Toyota Highlander on 1st Street in Boyle Heights in October. Humberto Guizar, Ceja's attorney, said that in the minutes after the accident, Huizar repeatedly asked that the matter be handled without alerting the Los Angeles Police Department.
Once officers showed up, they waited at least two and a half hours to give Huizar a blood-alcohol test, Guizar said. Huizar, 44, was detained that night and blew a zero on his breathalyzer test, according to police and the councilman's office.
Guizar questioned whether the councilman received special treatment the night of the crash. "To have a person that was involved in a collision sit in the patrol car for two hours before he has the test, that to me seems suspect," he said.
Still, one attorney who specializes in drunk-driving cases suggested that the timing of the sobriety test might not have mattered. Lawyer Myles Berman said any driver who blows a zero on a breathalyzer three hours after a collision would have been below the blood-alcohol limit at the time of the crash.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith had no comment, saying the department does not discuss pending litigation. Law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation, who sought anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, defended the LAPD's handling of the matter, saying officers went "above and beyond" what is normally done following an accident between two parties.
Huizar spokesman Rick Coca would not discuss the legal claim — or say when or where the breathalyzer was administered. "However, I can say that the council member called LAPD himself and they advised him, since there were no serious injuries, to exchange information with the other driver," he said.
Ceja has been working as a contract investigator for City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, a Huizar ally, earning nearly $8,400 over the past year. His attorney said the $500,000 figure contained in the legal claim is an initial estimate that could change in coming months. He also said his client had "serious spinal injuries" and severe back pain as a result of a "very hard impact to the rear of his car."
According to Guizar, the crash occurred at around 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 near the 101 Freeway onramp. Once the two men got out of their cars, Huizar hailed a passing ambulance and offered to pay for the damage but insisted that there was no need for police to be involved, the attorney said.
Guizar said Ceja pointed out to Huizar that a government vehicle was involved. Huizar then said he would call a friend at the LAPD's Hollenbeck Division station, according to the attorney. Soon afterward, Huizar told Ceja that police had informed him that the matter could be handled without a report, Guizar said.
"My client said, 'No I insist. I have injuries and I insist on a police report,'" Guizar said.
Ceja then called the LAPD himself, Guizar said, telling an officer at Hollenbeck that he wanted both an accident report and a sobriety test for Huizar. When officers showed up, they said they did not have the equipment to administer the test, the attorney said. Huizar sat in a police car at the accident scene until after 9 p.m. and was not tested until he was taken to a police station, Guizar said.
Law enforcement sources who spoke to the Times described Huizar as cooperative. They also said the LAPD routinely takes accident reports on collisions between city cars and private vehicles.