$2 Million awarded man shot by deputy

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$2 Million awarded man shot by deputy Posted on October 2, 2003 at 05:18:46 PM Shooting verdict against deputy brings review By Tamara Koehler, tkoehler@insidevc.com September 17, 2003 A jury award of $2 million in damages for a Fillmore man shot by a sheriff’s deputy at a wedding reception is the largest ever against a Ventura County law enforcement agency, officials said. Although disappointed by the jury’s verdict, sheriff’s officials say they are now reviewing evidence that came out during the federal court trial to see if any policy changes are needed. An initial review of the shooting by the Sheriff’s Department cleared Deputy Tonya Herbst of any wrongdoing in the May 2000 shooting of Anthony Morales, 54. Herbst shot Morales at a Fillmore wedding reception as Morales struggled to get a gun away from his intoxicated son, Chad Morales. A subsequent review for possible criminal charges by the District Attorney’s Office also found the shooting was justified. Herbst remains on the force. Chad Morales ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor Last month, the five-man, two-woman jury found that Herbst had intended to shoot Morales, acted negligently and violated his civil rights. That verdict triggered the damages phase of the trial, which ended with this week’s $2 million award to compensate Morales for his pain and suffering, medical costs and lost wages. The panel hung on punitive damages, and Morales attorneys say they will not pursue the case any further. Jurors told attorneys they ruled against the county because they believed Herbst was not credible. “They felt that she was dishonest, and her version of events was untrue,” said Paul Williamson, who took on the civil rights case for Morales three years ago. For instance, Herbst originally said she fired her gun from 10 feet away, but when other witnesses, including fellow deputies, contradicted that, she changed the distance to five feet, Williamson said. “The jurors thought even if she were five feet away, she had no business being that close in that kind of situation,” Williamson said. Undersheriff Craig Husband said the department intends to review such discrepancies to determine anew whether any policies were violated or need to be changed. But he also expressed disappointment with the verdict, which “came after the jury had days and weeks to make a decision when the officer had only one or two seconds.” “We felt the deputy acted appropriately, considering she was facing a deadly threat,” Husband said. “Clearly the jury saw it differently, so based on that we’ll go back and look at how they arrived at that, and see where the differences lie.” Morales said Tuesday he is tired after the three-year battle. “I never wanted it to come to this … It’s been a long, hard three years, and it’s going to be a part of my life from now on trying to deal with what happened,” Morales said. Although the $2 million award will be covered by insurance, the message behind the money doesn’t sit well with Alan Wisotsky, who represented the county. “My greater concern is the plaintiff wants to send this message to law enforcement to be more careful, but I’m so fearful that same message will cause a deputy or a police officer to hesitate just a little longer because they’re afraid of civil repercussions. I just pray that doesn’t happen,” Wisotsky said. Source: http://b4.boards2go.com/boards/board.cgi?action=read&id=1065133126&user=SoCA

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