El Monte : Damage Payment Backed

The City Council acted legally when it agreed to pay $2,000 in punitive damages on behalf of two police officers accused of using excessive force in a 1979 incident outside a local nightclub, the state Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a 2-1 decision, Justices Robert Kingsley and John A. Arguelles upheld a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling in favor of the city, finding that the small amount of money involved was unlikely to encourage poor police conduct and that cities have discretionary power to make such payments under certain circumstances. Acting Justice Jerry K. Fields dissented, maintaining that the payments were prohibited.

The city's action was challenged in a 1983 lawsuit by Bertha Guerrero, a legal secretary from El Monte who contended that the payments were prohibited by law. Her suit arose from a 1981 jury award of $1,000 in punitive damages against Officers Randolph Lovelace and Henry August for using excessive force against Donald Ray Stephens during the investigation of a fight outside the Nashville West nightclub. The jury also found the officers liable for $2,700 in general damages, which also was paid by the city but not contested by Guerrero.

Guerrero's attorney, Hugh Manes, said he plans to appeal the latest ruling to the state Supreme Court.

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