Another juror dismissed in suit against city police – Melville

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Here’s a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Police with Melville presiding. Another juror dismissed in suit against city police 8-24-2001 Karen White / Senior Times Writer SANTA MARIA — The jury changed again Thursday during a civil suit pitting a local resident against the Santa Maria Police Department and two of its officers. Mark Castro, 35, is suing officer Gary Steigler and Cpl. Norman Com for violation of civil rights, assault and battery and other charges. A paraplegic, Castro said the officers stopped him and pulled him out of his vehicle, which later was towed, leaving him sitting on the curb at the side of Miller Street. Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville dismissed the first juror selected Wednesday because of a medical emergency. The judge then dismissed a second juror Thursday after the woman sent the judge a note explaining she knew a witness on the stand. The witness happened to be Castro’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero. The jury is now made up of five women and seven men, with only one alternate. Testimony will continue at 9:30 a.m. today and closing arguments should come Monday, Melville said. Along with the jurors, Melville is having to ponder the evidence thus far, after Santa Ana attorney Bruce D. Praet, representing the city, Steigler and Com requested a “directed verdict” for the defense on several of the charges. He said Melville should take this action because the plaintiff’s allegations had not been proven during his case, as presented by attorney Catherine J. Swysen of Santa Barbara. “There were zero racial comments” according to Castro’s own testimony, Praet said. He argued that a racial discrimination civil rights charge should be dropped. Praet also asked that the charge of false arrest and imprisonment be dropped because the two officers did arrest Castro, but cited him for suspicion of driving without a license, registration and car insurance. He later paid a fine in connection with these infractions. The officers also are charged with use of excessive force, unlawful search and seizure and assault and battery. Melville said the jury would have to decide major factors of the case because of their subjective nature. It also appears the jury will have to decide if stopping the vehicle based on loud music was reasonable. The music was described as “a little loud” in a deposition from a passenger, Richard Barrios, in the Castro vehicle at the time of the traffic stop. Arrested that day for being under the influence of drugs, Barrios is now in state prison. Castro earlier said the music had been low because he and Barrios were talking. The jury did not get to hear one witness. Dora Sanchez made an appearance to tell the judge about a Sept. 21, 1998, incident involving Com. The incident occurred at the back door of a North Broadway bar as she stood smoking a cigarette, she said. Com responded to a report of a fight between women inside the bar. Sanchez said she and another woman, Juanita Chavis, told Com that everything was OK and there was no fight, she testified. Com’s answer, she said, was “I do not need your attitude.” She asked the officer’s name and he responded. At that point she said to Com, “You’re the one who killed my brother.” Chavis also told Com, “You’re the one who killed my son’s father,” Sanchez said. She was referring to the police-involved shooting death of Dwayne Eli Sanchez after a high-speed chase June 13, 1998. Norman Com was one of two officers who shot Sanchez after he backed his vehicle toward them. Sanchez said Com did not say anything to her after her comment, and other officers arrived. According to Catherine J. Swysen’s witness list, both Sanchez and Chavis were going to testify against Com. Melville ruled that while the Sanchez “shooting was unfortunate,” he did not see sufficient probative value from the testimony they offered. Praet warned that any comment on the Sanchez shooting — the subject of an $11 million federal civil suit against Com and the police department — would result in a “mini-trial” on this incident. [B]Melville has appeared reluctant to let Sanchez evidence in. [/B] However, another witness, Jose Salazar, was able to share details of a contact he had with Com on April 15, 1998. This led to the arrest of a passenger in his vehicle on suspicion of parole violation. Salazar said Com held a gun to his head and said “I could shoot you.” “I was really scared,” Salazar testified. The alleged incident came after a pursuit through a neighborhood. Salazar pulled his vehicle into the driveway of a stranger’s home, cutting the engine, as a method that had worked before to allude officers, he explained. But Com came up behind him. According to Praet, Salazar did not report the incident to police for more than a year. * Staff writer Karen White can be reached at 925-2691, Ext. 2217, or e-mail :nav Source:

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