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Federal Jury Awards $4 Million Over Mistreatment by Bell Gardens, Calif., Police

by Christopher Zoukis

After a three-week trial against the City of Bell Gardens, California and numerous Bell Gardens police officers, a federal jury awarded Gerardo Cazares and Marcelo Moreno each about $2.2 million for physical and emotional injuries.

On October 30, 2005, Cazares and Moreno, his father-in-law, were having a costume party in their front yard when Bell Gardens police arrived, responding to a noise complaint. The officers struck Cazares with batons and Officer Rigoberto Barrios shot Moreno in the chest with a bean-bag shotgun. Cazares and Moreno were arrested on charges of resisting arrest. Moreno was charged additionally with assault on a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon.

After Cazares and Moreno were tried and found not guilty, they sued the city and the five police officers, Barrios, Michael Cox, Sergio Tiscareno, Ricky McCraner, and Rene Ruiz for allegedly violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and state law. They alleged excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, governing body liability based on policy, practice and failure to train, conspiracy, and assault and battery. They also argued that individual officers wrote false police reports and lied in court under oath in order to send Cazares and Moreno to prison for crimes they did not commit.

Both Cazares and Moreno sustained contusions from the incident, and Moreno maintained that he has a permanent scar on his chest from being shot at such close range. They both claimed to suffer emotional injuries as well: They still weep when they discuss the incident, they were humiliated in front of their families, and they endured a trial based on false allegations. Each sought between $5 million and $7 million in damages.

Defense counsel argued that Cazares and Moreno attacked the officers first, which led to the officers' necessary response. Moreno allegedly attacked officers with a metal chair.

The jury deliberated for a day and a half. They awarded Cazares $1,547,333 in general damages and $621,100 in punitive damages, and Moreno $1,636,111 in general damages and $654,100 in punitive damages.

See: Cazares, et al., v. City of Bell Gardens, et al., United States District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division, Case No. 2:06-cv-05985-VBF-JTL (Apr., 14, 2008).


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