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Man wins case over deputies’ barrage

Times Staff Writer

As a young man in South Los Angeles, Winston Hayes got to know the Compton courthouse well, getting hauled before judges more than a dozen times to answer charges of arson, assault and other crimes.

On Friday, Hayes, 46, was back in court, but this time he walked out $1,326,468.60 richer after a civil court jury decided that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies used excessive force on him three years ago.

“Justice was done,” Hayes said after the verdict, his left eye drooping from injuries he received as a result of his encounter with deputies.

During a four-week trial, Hayes showed jurors nine bullet wounds he suffered when deputies fired 120 shots at him at the end of a low-speed pursuit on May 9, 2005.

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A total of 66 bullets struck Hayes’ sport utility vehicle. Eleven bullets struck the deputies’ own patrol cars, and another 11 pelted nearby residences.

In the end, only Hayes and a deputy were hit. The deputy was wearing a bulletproof vest and was not seriously injured.

“We do hope this verdict acts as a catalyst for building relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the community it serves,” said Hayes’ attorney, Brian Dunn, whose client had turned down the county’s offer of $500,000 to settle the case. County lawyers declined to comment

On the night of the shooting, deputies had been investigating a report of shots fired in a Compton neighborhood when they saw Hayes’ vehicle and approached to question him. Hayes, who was high on drugs at the time, said he panicked when he saw deputies and fled.

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At the heart of the trial was a videotape shot by an amateur photographer showing the end of the 12-minute, low-speed chase. It showed Hayes in his SUV, his path blocked by squad cars, and a dozen deputies closing in on foot with guns drawn. Deputies testified that they fired at Hayes because they believed he had tried to run them down. Each said he fired to save his own life or that of a fellow deputy.

But to many residents and police observers, the shooting appeared excessive and dangerous, imperiling the safety of deputies and residents.

Sheriff Lee Baca quickly disciplined all the deputies involved with suspensions of up to 15 days. He also made changes to the department’s shooting policy.

The incident prompted a report by Michael Gennaco, head of the sheriff’s Office of Independent Review, who concluded that deputies violated tactical and pursuit policies. He described the scene as “mass confusion.”

After 10 days of deliberations, jurors agreed that only two of the 10 deputies involved -- Michael Haggerty and Vergilian Bolder -- had used excessive force.

It was Hayes himself, his past and his motives that dominated deliberations, jurors said.

When he testified on his own behalf, he sounded defensive as he attempted to explain his past convictions for assault, arson, theft and resisting arrest -- and his use of cocaine and marijuana the night he was shot.

“There was a lot of disagreement,” said jury forewoman Julia Christmas of Paramount.

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She said she was persuaded from the beginning that deputies used excessive force, but it took 10 days to persuade nine of the 12 jurors -- the minimum needed to reach a verdict.

Christmas said the video was the key evidence.

“The shooting was excessive. At the time, they didn’t have a clear shot,” she said. “They weren’t at a place where they needed to shoot.”

Ultimately, the victim was less important than the deputies, she said.

“That’s what I had to keep reminding jurors,” Christmas said. “This wasn’t about” Hayes. “It was about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department taking responsibility for their actions.”

Deputies “should have waited a little bit more,” said juror Curtis Martin of Lakewood.

“I would not want this to happen in my neighborhood,” he said. “It could have ended in a different way. The police could have had more patience.”

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john.spano@latimes.com


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