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Man awarded more than $200,000 over 2009 encounter with deputies

James Spinks accused L.A. County sheriff's deputies of illegally detaining him and using excessive force at a train station.

July 19, 2013|By Jack Leonard

A federal jury awarded more than $200,000 on Friday to a man who accused Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies of illegally detaining him and using excessive force during a 2009 encounter that left him with a fractured rib, the man's lawyer said.

James Spinks, then 60, was injured when a deputy repeatedly kneed him in the side after knocking him to the platform floor at the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook train station, attorney Thomas E. Beck said. Witnesses loudly complained that deputies were beating an "old man," and one captured the encounter on a cellphone camera, Beck said.

In his lawsuit, Spinks accused the deputies of conspiring to cover up what they had done by falsely claiming that he had attacked them. Spinks was charged with resisting arrest in connection with the Feb. 20, 2009, incident, but the charges were later dismissed, Beck said.

The attorney said jurors found that Deputy Mark Collins used excessive force and that Collins and Deputy Ermina McKelvy unlawfully detained Spinks. Beck said the jury made the unusual decision to award $1,000 in punitive damages against Collins.

"Justice has been served, finally," Beck said after Friday's verdict. "We uncovered the cover-up."

The county's attorneys had argued that Spinks was the aggressor and that deputies used reasonable force. They said the incident occurred after Spinks refused to show a proof of fare to McKelvy as she checked fares on a Green Line train.

McKelvy, who was in plain clothes, asked Spinks to exit the train at the next stop so that she could speak to him, but Spinks tried to walk away once he got outside and swung an elbow at McKelvy's face when she placed a hand on his arm, the county's lawyers said in court papers.

Collins slipped as he tried to sweep Spinks' leg, and he, McKelvy and Spinks fell to the ground, according to the county. As Spinks continued to resist, Collins kneed Spinks twice in the right side of his chest until Spinks surrendered his left hand to be handcuffed, the county said.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said county officials would analyze the verdict and consider all legal options.

"We still stand behind our deputies," he said. "Just because this verdict has come in doesn't mean this is over."

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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