Hawthorne pays $1 million settlement in suspect-abuse lawsuit

A videotape shows two Hawthorne police officers slapping high-fives in the aftermath of an arrest in which one of their co-workers allegedly kicked a handcuffed suspect in the face, breaking his jaw.

FOR THE RECORD: An article in Tuesday’s California section about the city of Hawthorne paying a $1-million settlement to a man who said he was wrongfully injured by police officers incorrectly spelled the name of attorney Todd Melnik as Melnick.

Confronted with the videotape, which was recorded at the city’s jail, Hawthorne officials last week paid $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the 25-year-old suspect, Anthony Goodrow. In his suit, Goodrow said he was lying on the ground when he was kicked in the face during the July 21, 2006, arrest.

Attorney Glen T. Jonas, who represented Goodrow, said that although his client was “suffering in tremendous pain with a broken jaw,” police officers “were high-fiving and celebrating the beating,” instead of taking him to the hospital.

“There are some neighborhoods where some police officers believe they can get away with this kind of behavior,” Jonas said. He added that the City Council agreed to the settlement in December and paid the money last week.

Hawthorne Police Chief Michael Heffner, Mayor Larry Guidi and the city attorney handling the case did not return calls for comment.

According to court documents, police were summoned to a Hawthorne apartment to investigate a noise complaint. At the time, there was a party at the apartment, records show. When police arrived, Goodrow’s then-girlfriend exchanged words with an officer, saying it was illegal for him to enter the apartment. The officer handcuffed and detained her on suspicion of public intoxication.

When Goodrow tried to intercede, an officer asked if he wanted to go with his girlfriend. When Goodrow replied that he did, officers grabbed his arm and a struggle ensued, according to the lawsuit. Goodrow was thrown to the ground, punched and placed in a choke- hold until he was handcuffed, the complaint alleges. One of the officers then kicked Goodrow in the face while he was still on the ground, breaking his jaw, the suit alleges.

A friend of Goodrow’s took a photo of the encounter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, which shows an officer pulling back his leg and apparently preparing to deliver a blow, according Goodrow’s attorneys. During a deposition, Officer Ian Elliot was shown a copy of the photo. He testified that it depicted him standing up from the ground, not preparing to kick the suspect.

The city, in its court filings, suggested that Goodrow’s injury occurred during the struggle with police, not because he was kicked by an officer. Moreover, the city argued that because Goodrow resisted arrest, officers suffered scrapes and bruises. One officer had a bent finger, court records allege.

Jonas disputed the severity of the officers’ injuries. He said his client was the one who was “severely beaten.”

“His blood was all over the cement,” Jonas said. “He was crying in the police car.”

Later, Goodrow was taken to the police station to be booked. A video camera at the jail shows that as Goodrow was being searched by one officer, two others exchanged a high-five just a few feet away.

Asked to explain the high-five, Officer David Gregor testified that he was not expressing any approval of Goodrow being injured. He said it was more “gallows humor” in which he and the other officer were showing their relief that “Wow, we’re not involved in any of this.”

He said the gesture “had no malice behind it. It was just a thing between officers.”

Attorney Mark Rutter, who represented the city, said during one deposition that the officers were not aware of Goodrow’s broken jaw at the time of the high-five.

According to court records, Goodrow was not treated by paramedics or taken to the hospital despite a department policy that requires officers to seek medical attention for those with visible injuries.

In a phone conversation from jail that was recorded by police, Goodrow told his mother that his jaw was split in half. His mother then called a jailer and pleaded that her son be taken to hospital, according to a recording of that phone conversation.

Goodrow was not taken to a hospital until after his release from jail.

Goodrow and his girlfriend, who are now married, were subsequently prosecuted in criminal court. Todd Melnick, who represented them during criminal case proceedings, said both cases were dismissed after he argued that police illegally entered the apartment.