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Offer Accepted in Police Brutality Suit : Litigation: Dunbar will take $100,000 and drop his claims. However, officer, ex-officer refuse to drop their countersuits.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A man whom the city offered $100,000 to settle a police brutality lawsuit said Wednesday he wants to accept the deal and is willing to drop his claims against the city and police officers involved in the incident.

But two of the officers are refusing to back off their countersuits against Kevin A. Dunbar, saying he assaulted them during his arrest that was captured on videotape last summer.

“We’re trying to work it out with the cops,” Dunbar, 25, said Wednesday. “If they drop it against me, I’ll drop it against them. Hopefully, we can work that out.”

As part of the settlement offer, Dunbar would agree to drop his lawsuits against the officers if they reciprocated.

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The $100,000 settlement is likely to be finalized regardless of what the officers decide to do about their lawsuits, City Atty. Philip D. Kohn said.

Gregory G. Petersen, the lawyer representing the officers, said Wednesday that they are pursuing the lawsuits so that their names can be cleared.

Following the release of the videotape in December, Dunbar filed a federal lawsuit against the city and sued the officers at the scene of his arrest. The tape shows an officer kicking at Dunbar, who appears to be struggling on the sidewalk with two other officers.

Dunbar, who was homeless at the time of his arrest last summer, said he might use the money to buy a motor home and travel around the country. His future plans could include going to college, he said. Following the legal process has made him interested in becoming an attorney, he said.

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Dunbar expects to sign the settlement agreement next week when his lawyer returns from vacation. After the deal is finalized, Laguna Beach will ask a federal judge to drop the city from Dunbar’s lawsuit even if the officers continue to fight it, Kohn said. That would leave the officers alone to face punitive damages from a jury that might seek to punish them for their conduct, Kohn said.

Petersen, the lawyer representing Officer Richard Lopes and former officers Michael Donahue and Keith Knotek, said Wednesday that they want to clear their names. Police Chief Neil J. Purcell fired Knotek for kicking Dunbar, dismissed Lowrey for allegedly lying by saying he didn’t witness the kicking, and reprimanded Donahue for failing to include the kicking in his police report.

Lopes and Donahue filed a countersuit against Dunbar, and Knotek also plans to sue, Petersen said.

“Mr. Knotek is in a major dispute with the city and with Mr. Dunbar over whether what he did was proper,” Petersen said. “He wants a trial by jury.”

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Knotek, 26, who lost a city appeal on Friday to be reinstated, will be suing Laguna Beach for wrongful termination and probably will sue Dunbar for slander, Petersen said. Dunbar earlier had claimed that he was kicked in the head. But all investigation and testimony says Knotek kicked Dunbar in the upper arm, Petersen said.

“He lost a career over this,” Petersen said. “He has a right to sue people, including Mr. Dunbar and the city.”

The district attorney’s office and the Orange County Grand Jury investigated the kicking incident earlier this year. Both concluded in May that insufficient evidence existed to warrant criminal charges against Knotek or the other officers.

The settlement was justified in order to save the city from legal costs that assuredly would have exceeded $100,000, Purcell said.

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“I personally think it’s a very fair and equitable settlement, and hopefully something can be worked out with the officers who are pursuing the cross complaint against Mr. Dunbar,” Purcell said.

The kicking incident has hurt morale in the department, but settling the lawsuit should help, he said.

“People are tired of hearing it, seeing it and having it around on a daily basis” Purcell said.


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