A federal jury found Friday that two Los Angeles police officers had not used excessive force when arresting a onetime bank and Hollywood executive whom they believed to be under the influence of drugs known as bath salts.
Brian Mulligan, 54, a former Deutsche Bank vice chairman, sued the Los Angeles Police Department and two of its officers, claiming that James Nichols and John Miller had used batons to break his nose and shoulder during the May 16, 2012, encounter.
After hearing three days of testimony, jurors took less than three hours to reach a verdict, finding that the officers had not violated Mulligan's federal or state civil rights or battered him.
Much of the trial focused on Mulligan's mental state that night.
On the witness stand, the onetime co-chairman of Universal Pictures admitted to using bath salts — a legal, synthetic substance that can have effects similar to cocaine — 20 times to help himself sleep. But, Mulligan said, he had not ingested the drugs in the two weeks before his arrest.
The officers, however, testified that Mulligan told them he had consumed the drug four days before and acted strangely during their initial encounter with him. They said that during a second interaction, Mulligan began "snarling," "foaming at the mouth" and held his hands up like claws before trying to tackle Nichols.
Nichols told jurors that he couldn't have hit the executive with his baton during the incident because he had left it in the police cruiser.
"I am happy the truth came out," Miller said outside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles after the verdict. "This means the world to me. We did nothing wrong. The jurors listened and they knew the truth." As Miller hugged his mother, Nichols stood nearby, close to tears.
Peter Ferguson, Nichols' attorney, said the only people to support Mulligan's version of events were the plaintiff's paid expert witnesses. A Texas engineer and physician testified on Mulligan's behalf that only a baton could have caused his injuries.
Mulligan and his lead attorney, Louis "Skip" Miller, declined to comment after the verdict.
Assistant City Atty. Denise Zimmerman, who represented Miller and the LAPD, said the case came down to credibility, given the opposing versions of events. In closing arguments, she told jurors that the officers were trying to help a man in the middle of a drug-induced psychosis. Mulligan testified that he had gone to Eagle Rock to buy marijuana but got scared after being detained by a law enforcement officer he could not identify and seeing someone being tortured.
Nicholas and Miller testified that they detained Mulligan — who was sweaty and disheveled — at Occidental College in Eagle Rock about 10:40 that evening after responding to reports of a man trying to break into cars. A search of Mulligan's car turned up $3,000 in cash and containers marked "white lightning" — a bath salts brand. The officers said that after determining Mulligan was not under the influence of illegal narcotics, they took him to the Highland Park Motel at his request.
Miller testified that the officers spotted Mulligan pushing a trash can in the street shortly before 1 a.m. They confronted him, and he tried to attack Nichols. Both officers recounted that as they tried to handcuff Mulligan, he bucked and hit his head on the ground. Miller testified that he jabbed Mulligan's ribs with a baton.
According to Mulligan, he was taken to the hotel against his will and warned that he would be killed if he left. He said the officers caught him trying to do so and that Nichols broke his nose with a baton, leading him to black out.
Of the unanimous verdict, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said: "My thanks to the … jury for their thoughtful deliberation.
"The decision was just."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times