Anaheim settles excessive-force suit for $2.5 million

Times Staff Writer

Anaheim will pay a man in state prison $2.5 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging police used excessive force when he was run over by a patrol car while standing on the sidewalk surrendering to police.

Jose L. Munoz had his hands in the air and was facing a police officer who approached him on foot when Officer Eddie Ruiz drove a cruiser on the sidewalk and hit him from behind at 32 mph, the lawsuit alleges.

Munoz, of Anaheim, ended up underneath the car with his abdomen ripped open and internal organs exposed, according to court records.

The Anaheim City Council agreed to the payoff during its meeting last week.

"My client wasn't a threat to the officers," said Montebello attorney Arnoldo Casillas. "He was giving up. This was clearly a case of excessive force. Our hope is that this award will help Jose turn his life around."

Casillas said his client was serving his second prison term, 16 months, for being an accessory to a felony, and was scheduled to be released before year's end. In 2004, Munoz was sentenced to two years for vehicle theft, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was on parole when Ruiz hit him on June 14, 2005.

A police investigation blamed Ruiz for failing to yield to a pedestrian on the sidewalk, court records show. The incident occurred in the 400 block of North East Street following a brief foot chase. Munoz, 23, bolted from police after they stopped to question him.

Request for comments from Ruiz and the Police Department were referred to the city attorney's office, which did not return calls. Ruiz, a 13-year veteran, is currently working in the department's community services unit, police spokesman Sgt. Rick Martinez said.

Councilman Harry Sidhu said he was pleased the lawsuit was settled before it went to trial and that it was "a good settlement on both sides." Mayor Curt Pringle and other council members could not be reached for comment.

Still being negotiated is almost $3 million in medical bills submitted by three hospitals that treated Munoz. Casillas said the city had agreed to pick up that cost.

Ruiz is a defendant in another lawsuit alleging excessive force. In that case, Ruiz shot and killed one man, who police said was trying to hit him with a pickup truck, and wounded the passenger. The incident occurred six weeks before he struck Munoz with the patrol car.

Police said Ruiz and his partner interrupted a drug deal in April 2005 and tried to question Frank Carrillo, who was driving a Chevrolet S-10 truck, and passenger Oscar Mendez. Ruiz fired at least two shots, police said. His partner did not fire his weapon. No shots were fired at police. The district attorney's investigation cleared Ruiz.

Mendez, who had been paralyzed in an earlier shooting, conceded that Carrillo was trying to drive away but denied that the officers were in danger. A lawsuit filed by Mendez and Carrillo's grandparents was delayed in March, five days before it was to go to trial, when the Orange County district attorney's office filed charges against Mendez.

Prosecutors said DNA sampling of a gun found outside the truck, next to the driver's door, showed it had been handled by Mendez. Authorities waited almost two years to file charges. His attorney, John E. Sweeney, accused police of planting the gun.

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hgreza@latimes.com

Times staff writer Dave McKibben contributed to this report.

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