Murder Allegation : Judge Won't Dismiss Suit Against Deputies

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge refused Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses three Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies of the murder of a Van Nuys woman and seeks $10 million in damages.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month against Deputies Robert Waters, Robert Mallon and a third man identified only as Mike, alleges the men were acting under the "color of law," or their authority as deputies, when they met Catherine Braley at a Van Nuys bar and later killed her when she refused to have sex with them.

The deputies and Los Angeles police, who are investigating Braley's unsolved murder, have denied that the deputies were involved in the slaying.

Found Jan. 15

Braley, 26, was found strangled and beaten to death on the morning of Jan. 15 in a parking lot at 8101 Sepulveda Blvd., about three blocks from The Hunter, where she had been drinking the evening before. The suit, filed by Braley's mother, Mary Postma, alleges that she left the bar with the three deputies.

The deputies asked U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer to dismiss the suit because it contained no evidence that they were acting under color of law, a requirement for the case to fall under federal jurisdiction.

While acknowledging she was "very concerned" about damage to the reputations of the officers, Pfaelzer denied the motion. She said she will allow it to proceed until evidence shows whether the deputies were acting under color of law.

Undercover Officers

Postma's attorney Stephen Yagman said that the deputies are undercover narcotics detectives and argued that they are always on duty. At least one witness has said in a deposition that the men were identifying themselves in the bar as deputies. Yagman said that he did not know whether they were in the bar on an investigation or a social outing.

Yagman said that if the case proceeds, he expects to be able to gather evidence that backs the allegations in the suit, including the charge that the deputies acted under their authority as law officers.

"You can't know everything when you file a complaint," Yagman explained. "The person who knew all the facts is dead."

Meanwhile, Yagman said he has filed a second lawsuit against the deputies on behalf of Braley's father, Edward M. Postma, who lives in Iowa. The suit is identical to Mary Postma's suit and also seeks $10 million in damages.

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