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California Police Hit with Multimillion Dollar Jury Verdict in Prisoner’s Death

The family of Robert Ramirez, who died while in the custody of Oxnard, California police officers, was awarded over $2 million in damages by a federal jury. According to the family’s lawsuit, on June 23, 2012, Ramirez was “beaten with excessive force by Defendant(s) ... and was denied access to necessary medical treatment by Defendant(s) ..., which caused his death on the same date.”

Ramirez had swallowed a baggie containing methamphetamine during a routine traffic stop, but had been released without incident and went to the home of a friend, where he began to show signs of a drug overdose. His friend called 911, asking for police and medical assistance, and stated that Ramirez appeared to be hallucinating and suffering a seizure.

Several Oxnard police officers arrived and tried to question Ramirez. Although he did not resist or attempt to flee, they surrounded him while pointing Tasers at him. They then proceeded to wrestle him to the ground, cuffed him, placed a knee in his back and choked him with an arm bar. After complaining he could not breathe, Ramirez stopped moving. Additionally, according to the lawsuit, “While he was still alive, Defendant officers tased him several times.”

EMTs arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, noted that Ramirez had no pulse and attempted to revive him. After ten minutes he was transported as a “Code Blue” to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A post-mortem examination found that Ramirez had a broken nose, a dislocated right arm, bruises and abrasion, indented areas on his face and body, multiple bruises on his left arm and legs, and bruising on both sides of his abdomen. His skull showed signs of indentations and possible fracture. The Ventura County Medical Examiner called the cause of death “[a]sphyxia from active prone restraint (restraint asphyxia).”

Ramirez’s father, mother, minor son and his son’s mother filed suit in federal court, claiming multiple violations of federal civil rights laws by the City of Oxnard and the city’s police department. The complaint alleged the use of excessive force, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, failure to screen, train, supervise and reprimand casing constitutional violations, assault, battery, state interference with familial relationship, municipal liability and wrongful death.

The parties failed to settle and the case went to a jury trial in June 2015, with Ramirez’s minor son receiving a verdict of $1.6 million, his mother and father receiving $625,000 each and his estate receiving $75,000. The estate was represented by Ventura attorney Brian A. Vogel, the law firm of Bamieh & Erickson PLC and the Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo. The defendants filed motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial, which were denied. In September 2015 the district court awarded attorney fees to Ramirez’s estate in the total amount of $1,095,510 plus $23,512.25 in costs.

The defendants appealed to the Ninth Circuit, but dismissed their appeal after reaching a settlement in the case in January 2016. See: Ramirez v. Oxnard Police Department, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:13-cv-01615-MWF-AN.


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Related legal case

Ramirez v. Oxnard Police Department