A Los Angeles Police Department officer acted with malice when using excessive force against a college student from Whittier, a U.S. district court jury has found.
Daniel Garza, a 28-year-old kinesiology student at Cal State L.A., won $210,000 in damages on Monday after filing a lawsuit against the officer, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck and the city of Los Angeles.
On May 14, 2015, Garza was exercising in his front yard when Officer Mario Cardona parked his truck in his driveway across the street, got out and yelled at Garza to "come here," according to the lawsuit.
The officer, who was off duty, eventually crossed the street and assaulted the college student without provocation, punching him in the face and forcing him to the ground. While holding onto Garza, Cardona yelled that he had a "kidnapping suspect" in custody and a warrant for Garza's arrest, the lawsuit alleged.
A witness driving by stopped to film the scuffle. In the video, Garza can be heard screaming in pain and pleading for help while Cardona twists his wrists, the lawsuit stated.
"There's no reason to inflict pain on someone when they're not resisting in handcuffs," said V. James DeSimone, Garza's attorney, who added that a warrant had never been issued for his client's arrest. "Mr. Garza in no way fought back and merely tried to preserve himself by covering his head."
Although Cardona was off duty, "he acted as a police officer," DeSimone said.
In July 2015, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted Garza a three-year restraining order against Cardona. The federal jury found that Garza was eligible to recover damages from Cardona. A ruling in the claim against the city of Los Angeles is expected soon, DeSimone said.
According to the lawsuit, Chief Beck sent Garza a letter last year, saying that his allegations about unauthorized use of force were "unfounded." Reached by phone, an LAPD spokesperson said the department could not comment immediately on the case.
The city attorney's office could not immediately comment extensively on the case, but in a written statement said, "Officer Cardona is responsible to pay the judgment."