Jury sworn in for Castro case

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Jury sworn in for Castro case By Karen White / Senior Times Writer 8-22-2001 SANTA MARIA — A judge dismissed a male juror from a prospective civil jury Tuesday morning after the man said he did not believe he could be fair. “I want you to have a good jury and I don’t know if I can be that person” (a good juror), the unidentified middle-aged man admitted. Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville stopped attorneys from asking the man which way his opinion leaned. Melville finally swore in a jury of six men and six women, with three alternates, after about three hours of questioning. They will begin hearing evidence at 9:30 a.m. today. The dismissed man’s “confession” came after he heard details of a civil suit in which Santa Maria resident Mark Castro, 35, is seeking legal action and punitive damages against two Santa Maria police officers and the city police department on a July 3, 1999 arrest. Castro, a paraplegic, alleges the officers dragged him from his vehicle, seized it and left him sitting on a curb after a traffic stop. Catherine J. Swysen of Santa Maria, attorney for Castro, introduced the case for a court filled with prospective jurors. A paraplegic since being shot in the back in 1985, Castro was traveling without his wheelchair the day he was stopped “because he had not intended to get out” of the car, Swysen said. Then-Officer (now Cpl.) Norman Com stopped Castro’s truck because the radio’s music was too loud in front of the school in the 1000 block of Miller Street, she said. She admitted Castro had no driver’s license, and that a relative riding with him, identified as Richard Barrios, was taken into custody on suspicion of drug use. She also admitted three knives were found under the seat of the vehicle. When Castro was ordered out of the truck, he could not obey the order because he could not move his legs to get out. Swysen alleged Cpl. Com and Officer Gary Steigler dragged Castro out and left him waiting on the side of the road for 30 minutes until his mother arrived. Defense attorney Bruce Praet of Santa Ana told a different story. He said Castro had had no driver’s license for 14 years, and instead of hand controls, used a stick to control the pedals. Com made the initial stop for loud music, then was joined by Steigler. They said the passenger was arrested, then Castro was ordered out. Com did not know until then that Castro had mobility challenges, Praet said. According to the police, Castro said, “I’m not getting out of the car,” after which the two officers carried him to the curb. Castro was handcuffed, Praet said, while officers checked for loaded weapons. Steigler said that in years past he had arrested Castro with a loaded gun. Com took Castro’s companion to jail, while Steigler used a cell phone to contact Castro’s family. He only left, Praet said, after he was told family members were on the way. According to Praet, Castro was not left on the side of the road. He was sitting on the grass at the front of the school, past the curb and sidewalk. Officers saw no signs of abrasions on Castro’s legs, although Castro alleges he sustained scrapes that led to infections and he had to be hospitalized. Praet explained that because of Castro’s condition, he had been in the hospital with infections before, and will return to the hospital in the future. The theme of fairness was heard time and again during the jury selection process. “Castro has the right to a fair and impartial jury,” Swysen said, with Melville saying that both sides feel the “biggest fear is I won’t be treated fairly,” not the outcome of the trial. * Staff writer Karen White can be reached at 739-2217 or by e-mail at kwhite@pulitzer.net. :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2001/08/22/news/export535.txt

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