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Getting to the truth of the matter Tom Basinski | Fri, Apr 16 2010 04:26 PM

It was bad news to learn the city and the five Chula Vista officers lost a $2.2 million judgment in federal court for so-called police brutality and other offenses. One million of that is slated to come out of the cops' personal pockets by way of punitive damages. Two things about that case really bother me.

First, I was angered when I learned it was another law enforcement officer who sued the Chula Vista guys. Must cops sue one another? What really happened on that dark night in the 800 block of Woodlawn?

The plaintiff, Sergio Lopez, is a federal officer, initially trained as a border patrol agent, but now working for Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). Over the years I have had mixed results when dealing with the feds.

Working with them was mostly a one-way street. You gave them information and they gave you squat. But, they had tons of money, equipment, resources, and people to throw at a problem. So, you went along in the interest of closing the case.

On a few occasions I was involved in long-term investigations with individual federal officers. If you were in a close-quarters case with them, and worked with them regularly, things were better. One-on-one they were often good people, if you got the right one.

The local daily paper was somewhat correct in the original story that reported ICE was on a surveillance and had informed the Chula Vista Police dispatch of their mission.

I examined documents indicating the fixed surveillance was in the 1000 block of Industrial Blvd. What wasn't reported was that the Lopez got hungry and left his post (with permission) to get food in the 400 block of Broadway. The alleged traffic violations he was accused of committing were in the 500, 600, 700 and 800 blocks of Broadway and 600 block of "L" St. while he was hurrying back to the surveillance.

Even if the beat cops knew of the surveillance, the Lopez' violations were so far away one wouldn't expect the patrol officers to know he was on that case.

Agents on surveillance don't have flashing emergency lights on their dashboard anyway. Chula Vista cops had not only a right, but also a duty, to investigate.

In reading the depositions it is difficult to discern the truth. It truly is a case of "He said. They said." Both sides deny using profanity, although both sides accuse the other of doing so. No matter what they all said under oath, my expert guess is the air was rife with "F-Bombs." I believe the whole thing came down to credibility, and the jurors believed the fed more than the city cops. I wonder what tipped the scales?

I would have given anything for a dashboard camera. Someone lied. The question is: "Who?"

The ICE agent said he complied with the officers' orders and didn't resist. But they continued to pull him, push him, force him to the ground, and then onto the trunk of a car. I know I have personally handcuffed close to a thousand people. If the suspect didn't resist, the handcuffing was done in less than ten seconds.

The struggle with the agent lasted a long time and supposedly resulted in injury to his back. If he wasn't struggling, why did the ordeal take so long? If there is no struggle, it's "Grab and click." Then, you're done.

I tried to ask a few questions. Both sides had signed confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from talking about the case.

The second thing that bothered me was I accidentally learned that the jury returned with a monetary verdict twice what the plaintiff's attorney asked for. What was up with that? Did the O.J. jury make their way down to San Diego?

The plaintiff's attorney traditionally asks for the moon in damages, usually willing to settle for a small star. What kind of jury awards the moon, a planet, and several stars when the attorney didn't even ask for that much?

It will be interesting to see what becomes of this case on appeal. Because it's baseball season I feel safe in quoting Yogi Berra. "It ain't over 'til it's over."

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