Jury Hits CA City With $13M Police Use of Force Verdict

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A jury awarded more than $13 million to the children of a man who died after a confrontation with Anaheim, Ca., police in 2016, deciding that officers used unreasonable force and were negligent, the Los Angeles Times reports. The unanimous verdict in U.S. District Court followed two hours of deliberations and was “the obvious decision from seven days of testimony,” said jury foreman Brian Marcus. Jurors “had the task of putting a dollar value on a human being’s life, and it was so gut-wrenching,” he said. “I would have liked it to be a heck of a lot more for what this family and this poor man endured.” Fermin Valenzuela, 32, died from complications of asphyxia caused by a fight with two police officers. The officers used a stun gun and a chokehold to subdue Valenzuela, saying he was violent, under the influence of methamphetamine and had tried to flee.

Two officers encountered Valenzuela at a laundromat after a woman called to report that a man had trailed her mother home and was pacing in front of their house. An officer noticed blood on Valenzuela’s hand and a screwdriver in his bag. The officer ordered Valenzuela to stop and put his hands behind his back, but Valenzuela refused. Officers used a Taser and a carotid hold, which requires applying pressure to the neck, blocking the flow of blood to the brain and leading to temporary loss of consciousness. The Orange County District Attorney’s office found the officers’ actions justified, but Valenzuela’s family, saying he was unarmed and not a threat, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city. A city spokesman called the judgment unwarranted. “Our officers responded to a family’s call for help and took measured, reasonable actions in dealing with someone intent on resisting, fighting and getting away,” he said.

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