$412,700 in Suit Can’t Buy Peace of Mind, Man Says : Courts: Jury sides with plaintiff who claims partial loss of sight from being struck by a sheriff’s deputy. Money won’t put his life back as it was, he says.
Four years have passed since Enrique Sanchez’s violent run-in with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies outside his Compton home, but he says the pain behind his left eye is sharper than ever.
Sanchez contends that two deputies from the Lynwood sheriff’s station beat him and his 16-year-old son without cause in April, 1989. Sanchez, whose family had lived at the Washington Avenue home without incident for 16 years, was struck on the head with a foot-long flashlight, resulting in partial loss of his sight and two subsequent operations to reattach his retina.
The deputies said Sanchez and his son, Henry Sanchez Jr., interfered with them when they stopped at the Compton home to investigate the behavior of a man who appeared to be on drugs.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury agreed with the Sanchezes and on April 19 awarded the family $412,700 in damages. The jury found that former Deputy Monty R. Peterson assaulted Enrique Sanchez and falsely arrested him. The jury also found that Peterson inflicted emotional distress on the entire family. Deputy John R. Corina was not found responsible for any wrongdoing.
But Sanchez, 42, a former forklift driver who has since moved his family to San Bernardino, said the money means little without peace of mind.
“How they gonna buy my eye back? How they gonna buy my life back?” he asked. “There’s no way they can put me back the way I was before. I was the happiest man, with my family. They changed my life from white to black.”
Anthony Serritella, an attorney who represented the Sheriff’s Department, called the verdict “clearly excessive.” He plans to ask for a reduction in the award and to seek a new trial.
“The evidence suggests that Mr. Sanchez suffered, at most, a superficial, three-centimeter laceration to the scalp that was repaired with four stitches at a cost of approximately $128,” Serritella said. Peterson, who served six years on the force before resigning in June, 1990, could not be reached. Corina, contacted at the Lakewood sheriff’s station, declined to comment.
The trouble stems from an April 5, 1989, incident at the Sanchezes’ former residence in the 15000 block of Washington Avenue in Compton. Peterson and Corina, on patrol about 8:30 p.m., saw a man whom they suspected of being under the influence of heroin as he stood in front of the Sanchez home, according to court records. The deputies questioned Sanchez, who they said was drinking from a 32-ounce beer bottle. Sanchez says he does not drink alcohol.
When Sanchez’s son approached the home a few minutes later, he became hostile and used profanity, Corina said in a deposition. After repeatedly asking the younger Sanchez to step back, Corina subdued him on the ground. The elder Sanchez, who had been standing with his hands against the house, began to punch Peterson, who responded by hitting Sanchez in the jaw and striking him once on the head with his flashlight, authorities said.
Henry Jr. was not injured in the incident. The district attorney’s office had no record of either Sanchez or his son being formally charged with committing a crime.
Serritella maintains that the officers stayed within their legal bounds: “The father did come off the wall. Once he did that, he committed a crime--interfering with officers. Peterson used completely appropriate defensive procedures to overcome Enrique Sanchez’s resistance.”
Sanchez said the officers approached his home and, without giving a reason, demanded that he and friends in his driveway place their hands against the house. Sanchez said he protested when Corina threw his son to the ground, and that Peterson then struck him with his fist and the flashlight.
Sanchez’s next-door neighbor, Maria Velasco, and six of her family members watched the events unfold from their lawn.
“We, all the people, were shouting at (the deputies) to leave them alone because they were mistreating them,” Velasco, 25, said.
Despite what happened to him and his father, the younger Sanchez, now 20, wants to become a policeman. “It gets me upset that because one or two officers do something wrong, it hurts the reputation of thousands of good officers.”