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Ex-banker's 'bath salts' beating case against LAPD headed to jury

James NicholsDeutsche Bank AGJack in the Box IncorporatedLos Angeles Police Department

Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberating Friday in the excessive force and civil rights case of Brian Mulligan, a former co-chairman of Universal Pictures, against the Los Angeles Police Department.

The onetime Deutsche Bank vice chairman suffered multiple nose fractures, a broken shoulder blade and a bloody scalp after two officers took him into custody in Highland Park in May 2012, he says.

Mulligan's attorney, Louis “Skip” Miller, said Thursday in closing arguments that his client's testimony and medical evidence show he was struck in the face with a baton by officer James Nichols.

A baton also was used to break Mulligan's shoulder blade as his hair was torn from his scalp during an early morning encounter on Meridian Avenue, Miller said.

“The most compelling evidence is the pictures,” Miller said, flashing an image of Mulligan's bloodied face on a high-definition TV just feet from the eight-person jury. “Pictures tell a thousand words and don’t lie.”

He noted that an expert medical witness for Mulligan’s legal team testified that only a baton could have caused such injuries and that if his face hit the curb or sidewalk on the right side, he would have suffered road rash, which he did not.

Miller conceded his client had previously used a legal drug known as bath salts -- a synthetic stimulant designed to be like cocaine or methamphetamine -- but was not under the influence of the drug that night.

Earlier that night, he said, the officers detained Mulligan near Occidental College. Instead of letting him go after determining he was not under the influence of drugs or committed a crime, Miller said, the officers took him to the Highland Park Motel — an establishment a third officer testified was known for housing criminals.

Once there, Miller said, they ordered Mulligan to stay at the motel until morning, warning him he would be dead if he left. Fearing for his safety Mulligan fled, the attorney said.

Nichols caught up with Mulligan a few hours later and smashed him across the nose with his baton, Miller said.

“James Nichols — our position is he is a rogue. He is a sadistic person,” Miller said.

Miller questioned Nichols' testimony that he never took his baton out of his police cruiser and he never used it that night.

“Sure looks used to me,” Miller said, holding up the worn-looking weapon.

Denise Zimmerman, an attorney representing the city and Nichols' partner, officer John Miller, told jurors both officers testified Mulligan was never hit with a baton in the head and the only witnesses who said he was were Mulligan and his two paid experts.

“Brian Mulligan was in the midst of a drug-induced psychosis on the night of May 15, 2012,” she said, noting he told officers he had taken bath salts four days before.

Zimmerman said much of the night’s events were made up by Mulligan.

“It was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” she said.

If Mulligan’s testimony was to be believed, she said, events began when an unknown officer without a badge handcuffed Mulligan after he left an Eagle Rock smoke shop.

That officer sent him across the street to a scary apartment complex, where he claimed to have seen someone being tortured, and it was that fear that sent him running to Occidental College, past a well-lighted Jack in the Box.

“Does that sounds reasonable?” she asked jurors.

She said the city’s medical expert, a San Diego trauma surgeon, testified a baton hit to the head would have been fatal and that Mulligan's injuries were the result of him falling or banging his head on the ground as he violently struggled with the two officers.

To believe Mulligan, she added, “You have to believe that [Nichols] wanted to kill that man for leaving a hotel.”

“Drugs, delusions and denials,” said Peter Ferguson, Nichols’ attorney, in summing up the case. “It started six months before when Mr. Mulligan started snorting bath salts.

"He didn’t get them from a doctor, he got them from a head shop…and in the six months, the bath salts started having an effect.”

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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