By: Alma Fausto
A jury in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 20, awarded $13.2 million to the two children of 32-year-old Fermin Vincent Valenzuela, who died from complications of asphyxia after a confrontation with Anaheim police officers in 2016.
The decision came two days after the jury decided that officers used unreasonable force and were negligent, authorities said. The trial, in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, began on Nov. 12.
During the July 2, 2016, incident officers used stun gun and a restraint hold to subdue Valenzuela, under the influence of methamphetamine, who had violently struggled and ran. The officers had initially been called to the area to a report of a suspicious man who had followed a woman to her home, then confronted Valenzuela at a laundromat.
After the confrontation, an unresponsive Valenzuela was taken to a hospital, where he suffered three heart attacks and was taken off of life support on July 10, 2016.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office found the two officers’ actions justified while Valenzuela’s family filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against the city. The family claimed Valenzuela was unarmed and posed no imminent threat.
In November 2017, prosecutors released surveillance and police body-camera footage from the struggle.
Attorney Garo Mardirossian said Wednesday that Valenzuela did not commit any serious crime and the carotid restraint officers executed should not have been used, calling it “too dangerous.” In that hold, an officer applies pressure on the sides of the neck, cutting off blood flow to the brain and causing a temporary loss of consciousness.
Attorneys had ask the jury to award “significantly more” but said ultimately the amount was immaterial.
“No amount of money could replace little Vincent and Ximena’s father,” Mardirossian said.
Anaheim city officials called the judgment “unwarranted.”
“We are surprised and disappointed,” Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said.
Lyster maintained that officers took appropriate actions after Valenzuela fought, resisted and tried to flee.
“We believe (the officers) acted reasonably and in the best interest of public safety.”
Lyster said the big payout will not impact funds from other parts of the city.
He said the city will be covered by a risk pool, like an insurance policy, that will be the source of money paid to the plaintiffs. Those funds won’t be coming from any other source in the city such as public safety, parks or other day-to-day infrastructure.
Either way, the city disagrees with the judgment.
“We see a big disconnect in this result and what our officers and the community faced that day,” Lyster said.
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