Witnesses may be on ‘trial’ in civil-rights suit By Karen White / Senior Times Writer SANTA MARIA — An eight-day civil trial pitting a Santa Maria man against the Santa Maria Police Department may expand into mini-trials of witnesses. So warned defense attorney Bruce D. Praet of Santa Ana, defending officer Gary Steigler, Cpl. Norman Com and the police department against charges of violations of civil rights and assault and battery. Mark Castro, 35, has brought the charges. A paraplegic, he alleges the officers dragged him from his vehicle and left him sitting on a curb after a traffic stop July 3, 1999. The trial begins with jury selection starting at 9:30 a.m. today. Castro’s attorney, Catherine J. Swysen, Santa Barbara, reported during a pre-trial hearing Monday afternoon she would call witnesses who have brought allegations against Com in connection with other incidents. Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, who will preside at the trial, ruled Monday that details of other civil suits against Com cannot come into evidence, but people making allegations can testify. Melville warned he could yet amend this decision. He also ruled that past criminal convictions involving Castro also weren’t relevant to the upcoming trial. The challenge for the attorneys is that Com has been the subject of two other suits charging violation of civil rights, including the high-profile suit following the shooting of Dwayne Eli Sanchez on June 13, 1998. Com is named in the federal wrongful death civil suit filed in connection with the shooting of Sanchez on East Alvin Avenue after a high-speed chase. Officers Com and Mark Singleton alleged Sanchez put his vehicle in reverse in an attempt to run over them. They countered by firing at least 18 times. The city settled out of court May 5, 2000, on the day trial was to begin, on another civil suit, filed by Salvador Martinez. He also was represented by Swysen. That suit charged Com, Officer Mark Streker and an 18-year-old Explorer Scout with violation of civil rights and use of unreasonable and/or excessive force during an early morning Jan. 4, 1998, arrest. The settlement was for $42,500, which includes attorney fees. Swysen said she would call Martinez, Juanita Chavez, identified as the mother of a child with Dwayne Sanchez, and Dora Sanchez, the shooting victim’s sister, as witnesses. Both Chavez and Sanchez also have filed charges with the police against Com, allegedly involving a comment by the police officer made at a later incident. Com allegedly said, “I don’t need to put up with your attitude,” to the women. Praet questioned how that could be seen as a threat or racial comment. Praet said that when these witnesses appeared he would have to conduct a lengthy investigation to attack their credibility. Looking at the Sanchez shooting, Praet said, “I might have to try that case” as well as the others involving Com. :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2001/08/21/news/export512.txt

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