A federal jury rebuked Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates with a $189,894 judgment Wednesday, awarding the money to a political rival who said Gates had violated his civil rights by using sheriff’s investigators to harass him.
It was the first time a jury had a say in the decade-long controversy over whether Gates has misused his police powers. In 1987, Orange County settled a related federal suit against Gates for $375,000 but denied that Gates had done anything wrong. Two more related suits against Gates are pending in U.S. District Court.
The award to the plaintiff, private investigator Preston Guillory--came to $144,894 for actual losses, such as lost wages, and $45,000 for suffering. Gates was not immediately available for comment.
The lawsuit centered on incidents in 1984, when Guillory was involved in two federal lawsuits against Gates. Guillory, serving papers on a co-defendant at an apartment complex in Anaheim, later was investigated by Gates’ intelligence unit on suspicion of illegally carrying a concealed weapon and posing as a law officer.
Guillory eventually was tried on those misdemeanor charges and acquitted.
His attorneys argued that if Guillory had not been a public critic of Gates and had not been working for Gates’ election opponents, the investigation would never have been undertaken or would have been referred to Anaheim police, in whose jurisdiction the incidents were supposed to have occurred.
County May Pay
Wednesday’s judgment was against Gates, Orange County and one of Gates’ undercover informants. The city of Anaheim and some Anaheim officials also were listed as defendants but were not held liable. If the judgment stands, it would be paid by the county.
Guillory’s attorneys had sought punitive damages as well, but the jury refused to grant any. Gates’ attorney said that indicated that the jury had rejected the theory that Gates had conducted a vendetta against Guillory. Guillory’s lawyers, however, said if Gates had done nothing wrong, the jury would not have granted a damage award.
The trial lasted for five weeks before U.S. District Judge Richard A. Gadbois Jr. in Los Angeles.
“This is the first time someone’s ever taken (Gates) to trial,” said Meir Westreich, one of Guillory’s lawyers. “He was held accountable for his actions. Unfortunately, the public had to pay. Maybe they won’t want to vote for him so much anymore.” Gates was first elected in 1974 and since then has won reelection by hefty margins of 57%, 75% and 64%. His term expires in 1990.