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Attorney Says Slain Suspect Was Not Armed : Crime: A lawyer known for pursuing brutality cases is representing relatives of a man killed by Costa Mesa police. He disputes investigators’ statements that the man fired first.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A lawyer representing relatives of the suspect shot dead by Costa Mesa police near a bank this week said Friday the man was not armed and could not have fired first, as investigators have said.

“The information we’ve gathered so far indicates he was not armed at the time he was shot,” said Los Angeles attorney Stephen Yagman, who is known for pursuing brutality cases. “The man did not possess a gun at the time of the shooting.”

Yagman accused police of planting a “throwaway” handgun at the scene. He declined to specify evidence for his charges.

Investigators probing the shooting of John R. Mazak, 48, of Mission Viejo have said police were returning fire when Mazak fell in a hail of gunfire in a parking lot near the Bank of Yorba Linda on Adams Avenue.

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On Friday, homicide investigators in the Orange County district attorney’s office declined to discuss Yagman’s charges or other aspects of the incident. But they stuck with their account that Mazak shot first, after a brief police chase through a nearby health club.

“When the investigation is over, we’ll have something to talk about,” said Supervising Deputy District Atty. Christopher J. Evans.

The chase began when bank employees spotted Mazak outside and told police that they recognized him as the man who held up the bank with a gun in April. Mazak, a free-lance paralegal, served six years in federal prison in the 1980s after being convicted in New Mexico of armed bank robbery.

Yagman, saying Mazak’s family is “shaken and bereaved,” said he planned to file suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles next week, charging Costa Mesa police with violating the civil rights of Mazak and his family by using excessive force.

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Yagman, a controversial figure who said he has sued every law-enforcement agency in Orange County, has won high-profile cases in Newport Beach.

In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision that Newport Beach police used excessive force when they handcuffed a drunk-driving suspect to a hospital chair and allegedly held him by the shoulders while a nurse drew blood. Last year, Yagman won $285,000 in damages from the city on behalf of an advertising executive beaten during a 1986 traffic arrest.

He was recently barred from practicing in Los Angeles federal court for criticizing a judge, but a federal appeals court blocked that order at the last minute.


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