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Jury clears LAPD officers in 'bath salts' beating case

James NicholsCourts and the JudiciaryLos Angeles Police Department

A federal jury on Friday found that two Los Angeles police officers did not use excessive force when they arrested a one-time bank and Hollywood executive they believed to be under the influence of the drug bath salts.

Brian Mulligan, 54, sued the Los Angeles Police Department and two of its officers, James Nichols and John Miller, in federal court. He alleged they violated his civil rights, used unreasonable force and committed battery during a May 16, 2012, arrest.

The decision by the eight-person jury means there will not be a second phase of the trial to decide whether the city negligently supervised the officers.

Assistant City Atty. Denise Zimmerman, who represented the city and Officer John Miller, told jurors the case came down to credibility and two completely different stories about the night of the arrest. She said it came down to whether they believed Mulligan or the two officers and a series of witnesses to his bizarre behavior.

Mulligan testified that Nichols, during the final confrontation at Avenue 54 and Meridian Street, swung his baton, fracturing the banker’s nose and then broke his shoulder as Nichols' partner held Mulligan.

He told jurors that after Nichols broke his nose he blacked out, only to regain consciousness with the officers sticking something in his back and Miller whispering he was going to overdose that night and injecting him with heroin.

Mulligan admitted using bath salts, a legal drug designed to act like cocaine or methamphetamine, 20 times to help him sleep but said he had not consumed them in two weeks before he was beaten

Mulligan’s attorney, Louis “Skip” Miller, told jurors Nichols was “a rogue” cop who punished Mulligan.

But because of a ruling before trial by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, the attorney was unable to tell jurors that Nichols is facing a disciplinary hearing in which the LAPD could seek to fire him in connection with an investigation involving coerced sex with women.

One of the women involved in the case that names Nichols and a second officer who worked with him in the Hollywood Division recently won a $575,000 settlement from the city.

But Nichols and Miller testified they were only trying to help a man in the middle of what one of their lawyers termed “a drug-induced psychosis.”

Both officers testified Nichols did not even have a baton with him when they eventually had to arrest Mulligan. Nichols said he never in 13 years on the force used his baton.

The officers told jurors that after trying to help him earlier that night, they found Mulligan snarling, foaming at the mouth with his arms above his head and his fingers held like claws. They tried to tackle him, and Nichols sidestepped Mulligan, who hit the ground.

They said that as they tried to pin Mulligan down and handcuff him, he bucked and struck his head on the ground. Miller testified the only jabs with a baton were two he delivered to Mulligan’s ribs.

The officers during the trial testified that they didn't know exactly how Mulligan suffered his injuries and were shocked by the amount of blood.

Experts for Mulligan testified that blows to his nose and shoulder blade were the work of a baton and not a fall. Dr. Harry Smith noted that Mulligan broke his nose from the right side and yet that side had no abrasion from the ground. But a San Diego trauma surgeon, acting as an expert for the officers, said he had seen dozens of such injuries from falls.

Mulligan told jurors he gone to the Eagle Rock area to get THC pills from a pot shop with a prescription, and when he left the business he was detained by a woman who said she was a law enforcement officer and sent him to an apartment complex, where he became scared after seeing someone being tortured.

It was that episode that sent him running toward Occidental College, the only place he knew nearby, he said.

Attorneys for officers and the city said that Mulligan imagined that incident.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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