Ventura Settles Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against Police

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By Raul Hernandez

Ventura County Star

The City of Ventura agreed to settle a lawsuit filed against police officers who allegedly severely beat a man while officers were searching for a stolen iPad last year.

In a press release issued late Tuesday evening, the city agreed to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Denny D. Fields for $285,000, according to Assistant Chief of Police Quinn Fenwick.

"While this is a significant amount of money, the city's Risk Manager Ellis Green notes that the potential exposure to the city and its taxpayers was considerably more, as a federal civil rights case can result in an award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees in addition to compensatory damages, regardless of any contributory fault on the part of the claimant," Fenwick stated.

Adding that the police department is subjected to very few civil rights lawsuits like the one filed by Fields.

 "Nevertheless, the Department has taken this matter very seriously, thoroughly reviewing its policies and procedures as well as the conduct of its officers, and using the incident to identify and implement training procedures in order to ensure the continued trust in the Department by the public it serves," Fenwick stated.

Adding that the police department is subjected to very few civil rights lawsuits like the one filed by Fields.

 "Nevertheless, the Department has taken this matter very seriously, thoroughly reviewing its policies and procedures as well as the conduct of its officers, and using the incident to identify and implement training procedures in order to ensure the continued trust in the Department by the public it serves," Fenwick stated.

"The incident with Mr. Fields involved the City's officers reacting to a volatile, violent  and dynamic situation," according to Fenwick.

He said the police department would decline further comment on this matter.

In an interview, Fields' lawyer Brian Vogel said he had not read the press release so he couldn't make specific comments.

"I look forward to seeing real changes in the police's policies, procedures and tactics to ensure that the constitutional rights of our citizens aren't violated," Vogel said.

Fields alleged in the civil rights lawsuit that four or five officers, including Craig Kelly and Joel Kline, knocked on the door of his girlfriend's duplex on Dec. 25, 2011, saying a GPS signal indicated a stolen iPad was inside the residence.

Alethia Alvarado, Fields' girlfriend and the mother of his children, was also named as a plaintiff.

Vogel claims that officers searched Alvardo's duplex where the incident happened was searched by police without a search warrant and while she was away.

Fenwick, stated in the press release that a residential burglary was reported on Dec. 22, 2011 and three days later, officers received information that one of the items stolen was at a particular residence in the city.

Officers went to that residence where they encountered Fields, and following brief questioning, Fields started to close the door on the officers and a physical altercation ensued which resulted in Fields and two of the officers being injured,  Fenwick stated.

But Vogel had said that Fields told the officers that he was there waiting for his children so he could give them Christmas presents. One officer accused him of "delaying our investigation," the lawsuit stated. Fields denied being on parole or probation.

Vogel had said his client showed them his driver's license. Fields denied that he knew anything about the iPad, Vogel had said. As Fields was trying to call his lawyer, Vogel had said the officers then rushed inside, beat and used a Taser on Fields, and allowed a police dog to bite him.

Alvarado's house was searched by police without a warrant and officers didn't find the stolen iPad inside the residence, Vogel had said.

Fields was taken to the hospital where an officer identified as "Officer Henderson" drove Fields to an emergency room, cursed at him and accused him of breaking an officer's hand. Fields denied the allegation, saying the officer's hand probably was broken when he struck Fields in the face with his fist, according to Vogel.

According to the lawsuit, a doctor told an unnamed detective who was taking photographs of Fields' injuries that Fields needed a CAT scan, the lawsuit states. The detective refused to wait and spent at least five more minutes questioning Fields. Another officer told a nurse at the emergency room that Fields' wasn't bitten and to "just wipe it and it would be fine."  But the ER nurse, however, insisted that it was a dog bite and that the wound needed stitches

Fields, of Ventura, was arrested on suspicion of mayhem on Dec. 25, 2011. The District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute him two days later, citing insufficient evidence, the lawsuit states.

Shortly before his release from jail, Fields was taken to a conference room, where he met with Fenwick and Green, according to the 52-page lawsuit filed Aug. 6.

Fenwick and Green apologized to Fields for the incident and offered him $500 for each day he was in jail, an additional $5,000 and Christmas presents for his children, Vogel had stated.

The lawsuit states that Fenwick allegedly mentioned Fields' 2010 arrest for possessing drugs for sale and stated: "What I would like to do right now is clear what happened on Christmas. Even though one of our officers got hurt, we are willing to forget about this. We won't file against you if you don't file against us basically as of right now, I'd like to know what we can do to make your Christmas better."

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The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.