Former Partners : 2 Deputies Defendants in 3 Suits
A man who alleges that he was beaten by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies in a Westlake Village parking lot has sued a pair of deputies who already are accused in two other lawsuits of using excessive force.
Deputies Lewis Scott McAfee, 30, and Ronald Raul Gomez, 35, are defendants in suits stemming from three incidents in 1984 when they worked as partners in the Malibu sheriff’s station. Los Angeles County also is a defendant in the suits, which seek a total of $10 million in damages.
The latest suit was filed last week in U. S. District Court in Los Angeles by Michael Alan Fell, 24, of Northridge. Fell alleges that his civil rights were violated when he suffered a concussion, a “split mouth” and other injuries when he was arrested April 2, 1984, on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Another suit was filed in the same court in 1984 by Robert Whealon, 39, a Thousand Oaks businessman, who contends he was permanently injured June 5, 1984, when deputies allegedly beat him with night sticks after a car chase that ended in Thousand Oaks. Whealon, whose leg was broken in the incident, also names two other deputies in his suit, which is scheduled for trial April 22.
The third suit was filed last year in Los Angeles Superior Court by the father of a Seattle man who was shot to death by McAfee and Gomez after he crashed a sports car on Pacific Coast Highway on Aug. 27, 1984. The father’s suit alleges the wrongful death of his 20-year-old son, who was shot eight times. The lawsuit also alleges that the officers used “mortal and unreasonable force.”
Whealon’s attorney, Michael Mitchell, said the U. S. Justice Department is investigating the arrest of his client. A spokesman for the department in Washington said he could not comment on pending cases.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Mira said his office, which investigates all officer-involved shootings, is still looking into the shooting on the Pacific Coast Highway.
McAfee now works for the sheriff’s Antelope Valley station, and Gomez is at the Lennox station, near Los Angeles International Airport, according to Capt. Mark Squiers, commander at the Malibu station. The transfers of the deputies, both five-year veterans of the Sheriff’s Department, were routine and not related to the 1984 incidents, Squiers said.
A sheriff’s spokesman said neither the department nor the deputies could comment on pending litigation. But Capt. William R. Hinkle of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said, referring to the deputies, “If we had a serious concern relative to their competency, they would not be in a field assignment.”
In police reports and depositions, the deputies have defended their actions, saying they feared for their safety in the three incidents.
‘These Aren’t Bad Cops’
“Police officers get challenged all the time, and they do fear for their lives,” said attorney Juli Christine Scott, who is representing the two deputies in the Whealon case. “These aren’t bad cops. They have to make split-second decisions.”
Richard Townsend, senior deputy county counsel, did not know the exact number of lawsuits that have been filed against sheriff’s deputies alleging use of excessive force. But, he said, “Officers who are active and on field duty are going to get sued at least double or triple the rate” of others.
A police report of the Fell incident, written by Gomez, said that Fell and another man were in a car parked with its engine running in a no-parking zone at the Westlake Inn. When McAfee and Gomez investigated, they smelled alcohol and asked the two men to step out of the car, the report said.
When deputies attempted to handcuff Fell’s companion, Fell bolted toward McAfee, the report said. Gomez grabbed Fell by the hair, according to the report, and hit him in the ribs with a flashlight.
The two men were taken first to Westlake Hospital for treatment, then to the Malibu sheriff’s station, the report said.
After a jury failed to reach a verdict on drunk-driving charges, Fell pleaded no contest to a charge of being drunk in public and was sentenced to one day in jail, the time he had already served.
Fell’s lawsuit, which is asking $3 million in damages, contends that he was falsely arrested, “assaulted and battered” and denied timely medical treatment.
In the Whealon case, the clash with deputies followed a meandering, eight-mile car chase that began in Los Angeles County and ended in a parking lot along Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Ventura County.
According to their attorney, McAfee and Gomez feared that they were being led into an ambush when Whealon drove to the unlighted parking lot.
In a deposition, McAfee alleged that he was struck in the groin by Whealon when the motorist resisted arrest at the end of the chase. During a struggle that followed, Whealon fell on top of Gomez, the deposition said.
“At that point, I was in fear of losing my gun,” Gomez said in his police report.
McAfee used a night stick to strike at Whealon, who was “kicking,” according to McAfee’s deposition. McAfee and Gomez eventually subdued Whealon with their night sticks and took him to Westlake Hospital, the deposition said. The two other deputies named in the lawsuit helped handcuff Whealon, according to their depositions.
At the hospital, Whealon told the deputies that his leg was broken and he was unable to get out of the patrol car, McAfee’s deposition said, so McAfee and a sheriff’s sergeant helped Whealon into a wheelchair. While being rolled to the emergency room, Whealon fell out of the wheelchair when a foot support on the chair dragged on the ground, the deposition said.
Whealon’s lawsuit alleges that he was assaulted, falsely arrested and humiliated by the incident. Whealon, who walks with a limp and uses a cane, is seeking $5 million in damages. An emergency-room doctor said in a deposition that a bone in one of Whealon’s legs had been shattered.
In his deposition, Whealon said he was returning home after buying a bottle of wine at a convenience store and noticed that he was being followed by a patrol car. He did not yield when the patrol car’s emergency lights came on, the deposition said, but instead decided to continue to the sheriff’s station in Thousand Oaks. Whealon said he had heard talk around the Conejo Valley “about people being robbed by people pretending to be police.”
Whealon finally pulled over when he spotted a second patrol car, he said. Whealon said he got out of the car, put his hands over his head and “did exactly what they asked me to do.”
‘Shoe . . . Full of Blood’
Whealon alleged in the deposition that McAfee pulled his hair, hit him twice in the lower back, once under the right ear and once on the back of the head.
“What I remember saying is, ‘God, what did I do to deserve this?’ and the next thing I know I was being carried to the police car,” Whealon said in the deposition. “When I looked down, I saw that my shoe was completely red, full of blood.”
Whealon alleged that McAfee and Gomez laughed when he fell out of the wheelchair, an accusation that McAfee denied.
Whealon was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, battery against an officer, resisting arrest and evading a police officer. He eventually pleaded guilty to obstructing an officer and was placed on probation for two years.
Interviewed by FBI
Whealon said he was interviewed by the FBI early last year in connection with the Justice Department investigation.
The most recent incident involving McAfee and Gomez ended in the shooting death of Floyd Holmes III.
McAfee and Gomez first spotted Holmes about 3 a.m. as he drove a Jaguar south on Pacific Coast Highway past Carbon Canyon Road, according to a report issued by the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
The deputies said they chased Holmes at speeds up to 70 m.p.h. before the car skidded out of control at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and crashed into a bus bench. As the deputies walked up to the disabled car, Holmes threatened the officers’ lives while reaching under the seat of the Jaguar, the report said.
The sheriff’s report said Gomez and McAfee began firing their weapons at Holmes, who the officers believed was reaching for a weapon. Holmes was struck six times in the upper back and once in the neck with .38-caliber bullets, and once in the head with a shotgun blast, according to an autopsy report.
No gun was found on Holmes or in the Jaguar, which officers later determined had been stolen from North Hollywood, the report said.
Holmes’ father, Floyd Holmes Jr., is asking $2 million in damages in his suit, which alleges that the deputies acted maliciously and used “mortal and unreasonable force.” The suit also names Sheriff Sherman Block as a defendant, alleging that he was negligent in the hiring and supervision of the two deputies. No trial date has been set.
Hinkle, the department spokesman, said sheriff’s officials already have completed their own investigation of the Holmes shooting and have passed on their findings to the district attorney.
Hinkle said, “we did not have any information that anyone was alleging excessive force” until the cases involving Fell and Whealon were filed in court. Department officials are monitoring those cases and will conduct their own inquiry when the court proceedings are over, he said.