LAPD officer uses excessive force on disabled man in search for robbery suspect. $1.68 million verdict. Los Angeles County.

Summary

LAPD officers enter home searching for robbery suspect; suspect's father, disabled by a stroke, is manhandled and injured.

The Case

  • Case Name: Harris v. Alex Tellez, City of Los Angeles
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court/ BC451880
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, November 07, 2012
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, December 22, 2010
  • Type of Action: Excessive Force
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Charles Palmer
  • Plaintiffs:
    Allen Harris, 53
  • Defendants:
    City of Los Angeles
    Alex Tellez
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,686,000.00
  • Economic Damages:

    Past:  $63,000

    Future:  $33,000              

               
  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $750,000

    Future: $750,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    $90,000 against Defendant Tellez only.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 15 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day.
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 on Battery; 10-2 on Civil Rights; 12-0 on damages; 9-3 on punitive damages.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison by V. James DeSimone, Venice.
    The Luti Law Firm by Tony Luti, Hollywood.
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Office of the City Attorney by Surekha Pessis, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
    Kenneth Sabbag, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Pasadena.
  • Defendant's Medical Experts:
    William Stetson, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Burbank.
  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    Roger Clark, Lieutenant, Sheriff's Dept., Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On November 10, 2009, LAPD officers were serving a valid search warrant at plaintiff’s residence.The search warrant was based on the mistaken belief that Mr. Harris’s son was involved in a robbery. While in plaintiff's home, defendant officer Tellez forced plaintiff's semi-paralyzed arm behind his back.
    Plaintiff had suffered a stroke in June of 2009, resulting in semi-paralysis of his left side. 

     

     

     

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That Officer Tellez forced the injured arm behind plaintiff's back, clamped the handcuff on his left wrist so tight as to cause nerve damage, slammed him into a wall and refused to loosen the handcuff on his left wrist, despite plaintiff's plea of pain.

    Mr. Harris testified during the trial that he was about to take a shower so he did not have his leg brace on which assisted him when he walked, when he heard a loud banging at the front door.  He further testified that as he exited his bedroom, he was confronted with an officer pointing a shotgun at him, yelling commands to “put your hands behind your back turn around and walk backwards towards my voice.” Mr. Harris promptly raised his right hand and explained that, “I can’t put my hand behind my back, I had a stroke, and I can’t walk backwards.” 

    Plaintiff testified that as the commands were repeated, plaintiff's two sons, who were also present at the apartment, also yelled to the officers, “He can’t put his hands behind his back, he’s disabled, and he had a stroke.”   Plaintiff testified that he was nonetheless aggressively dragged out of his apartment and that Officer Tellez grabbed his injured left arm, twisting his wrist, and forcing his spasming, semi-paralyzed left arm behind his back.

    A neighbor who testified at trial, observed that while this was occurring, Mr. Harris was imploring “I can’t put my hand behind my back, you’re hurting me.”

    The evidence at trial demonstrated that Officer Tellez ignored all the information given and after forcing plaintiff's arm behind his back, slammed him against a stucco wall and single-cuffed him, clamping the cuffs down in an improper and excessively tight manner.  Mr. Harris complained that the cuffs were too tight and hurting him.  Finally, about 10 minutes later, another set of cuffs were put on plaintiff, however, the left cuff, which was cutting into his wrist, was never loosened.  After the handcuffs were removed, plaintiff continued to complain about the pain and swelling of his wrist, but his complaints were  ignored.

     

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That defendant Tellez did not touch or handcuff plaintiff. That plaintiff was not injured in this incident.  That officers had the right to handcuff him in connection with the service of search warrant. 

     

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff suffered a reopening of a clavicle fracture he had suffered in September of 2009 when he was mugged as well as permanent nerve damage in his wrist. Medical doctors testified at trial that the handcuffing of Mr. Harris caused him to suffer nerve damage. Plaintiff testified that he suffered burning pain in his clavicle which did not heal for six months, as well as wrist pain and a loss of movement in his wrist resulting from the nerve damage caused by the handcuffs.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $27,000.00
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $17,500.00

Additional Notes

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $1,596,000 in compensatory damages for medical bills, physical pain, and mental and emotional harm. On November 8, 2012, the jury awarded $90,000.00 in punitive damages against Defendant Officer Alex Tellez.

The jury also found the officer battered Mr. Harris, and that he acted with malice and oppression for his harmful conduct. The jury verdict on the civil rights claim provides for an award of attorney’s fees under the California Civil Code Section 52.1.

Post Trial Motions:  Plaintiff will file a Motion for Attorneys Fees pursuant to Civil Code Section 52.1

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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