|Prietto: Does this guy look like a troublemaker?|
The lawyer for a group of South Orange County residents--including a famous athlete and a successful Laguna Beach actor/model--told a federal jury today that sheriff's deputies lied on the witness stand to cover up excessive force used during an early-morning 2007 incident in Dana Point.
"These deputies escalated a simple citizen contact into a full-blown confrontation," said lawyer Joshua Stock. "They just didn't like these surfers with the long hair."
Following a civil trial this week in Santa Ana's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Stock asked jurors to find that three deputies were guilty of excessive force, wrongful arrest and filing trumped-up criminal charges.
The Orange County district attorney's office dropped all charges against Stock's clients after deputies repeatedly offered inconsistent statements about alleged evidence in the case, DA officials say.
In his closing argument, Dennis M. Gonzales--the deputies' private but taxpayer-funded defense lawyer--claimed that an "abundance" of evidence presented at the trial proved that the plaintiffs were either heavily intoxicated or purposefully obstructing police from performing their duties, and then looking to exploit the incident for money. Gonzales came close to describing the plaintiffs as scumbags.
"The force [used by deputies] was appropriate," said Gonzales, noting that none of the plaintiffs required medical attention after the incident. "If the intent [of the deputies] was to hurt them, they would have had to go to a doctor."
According to Gonzales, the plaintiffs--Dominic Prietto (of Make Me a Supermodel and The Bold and the Beautiful fame), William Jennings Bryan (a seven-time world champion skimboarder), Miriam Lew, Morgan Just and Steve Lerum--"put on a show" and "made a big deal, exaggerating everything . . . screaming, crying and yelling" after a crowd had formed.
But two independent eyewitnesses, who've described themselves as pro-law enforcement, testified that they were shocked after watching "foul-mouthed" deputies treat the group with unjustified violence and aggression.
For Stock, that evidence was critical because it established that the deputies--Brett Gardner, Jose Pelayo and Jonathan Daruvala--filed false police reports about the incident and lied on the witness stand. He told jurors to "think about that" evidence when they deliberate.
But Gonzales sought to undermine the eyewitnesses, arguing that while they "honestly believed" the deputies had overreacted, they were too far from the incident to know what was transpiring.
"They only saw a little bit [of the incident]," Gonzales said.
After federal Judge Cormac J. Carney gave them the case, jurors--four women and three men--ate lunch, and then deliberated for about three hours, but did not reach a verdict.
I'm guessing the deputies have at least one juror on their side. When Stock finished his closing argument, this juror--a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper-colored hair--rolled his eyes contemptuously and snorted.
Orange County juries have a long, pathetic history of siding with cops, even obviously dirty ones. In one infamous case, an Irvine police officer disconnected the GPS unit in the trunk of his patrol car (so that dispatchers couldn't track his whereabouts), tailed a woman outside of his jurisdiction, pulled her over on false pretenses, then masturbated and ejaculated on the shocked woman's chest. DNA testing later matched this cop's sperm with the sticky matter left on the woman, and yet a 2007 OC jury--mostly old, white men--couldn't bring themselves to find the officer guilty of any crime
For previous coverage of the Dana Point case, see:
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly