A jury awarded $6 million this week to a man who said Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies forced him from his car after a routine traffic stop, beat him, kneed him in the face and broke his eye socket.
The jury’s award comes after the district attorney dismissed criminal charges against Deon Dirks, 33, for allegedly assaulting the deputies.
Dirks, a school bus driver from South Los Angeles, had just left an auto parts store in Compton in November 2007 when he was pulled over for speeding. When one of the deputies asked him to get out of the vehicle, Dirks asked why. He said the deputies perceived his remark as confrontational and again ordered him to get out of his mother’s Buick Park Avenue sedan. The situation escalated, Dirks said, when he told them that the driver’s side door of his car was jammed.
After getting out of the car, Dirks said a deputy pulled his arm forcefully behind his back. “It felt like he was trying to break my arm....He’s saying stop resisting, stop resisting, and I’m saying I’m not resisting, you’re hurting my arm.”
The deputies then used pepper spray on Dirks and punched him in the head, he said. The attack continued, he said, with the deputies kneeing him multiple times in the face and slamming his head onto the pavement.
Sheriff’s officials, however, characterized Dirks as the aggressor. Prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of assault and resisting arrest. But prosecutors dropped the charges after a jury failed to convict him.
In his testimony, Deputy Robert Martinez said he and his partner, Pablo Partida, were on patrol when they encountered Dirks speeding. He said he viewed Dirks’ behavior as odd and erratic, and he worried that he might be dangerous. At one point, Martinez said, Dirks reached in the direction of the deputy’s holster, an allegation Dirks denies.
Martinez testified that his “take down” of Dirks was as controlled as it could be. “All it is you grab someone and you spin them around, and your job is to have them lose their footing,” he told jurors. “It is not a pretty thing, but that is what needs to be done.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore declined to detail the department’s account of the traffic stop but called the force the deputies used “appropriate.”
“We think the judgment is excessive,” Whitmore said. “The deputies acted in an appropriate manner.”
The county is expected to have to pay attorney fees in addition to the jury award for Dirks. Whitmore said the department is considering appealing.
“These two deputies tried to put an innocent man in prison for 10 years after they brutally broke his face,” said Dirks’ attorney, Glen T. Jonas. “They stole his peace of mind.”
Dirks said he was in Men’s Central Jail for five days after the incident. “If there was hell on Earth,” he said, “that nasty filthy place is hell.”
As a result of the incident, Dirks said, he lost his certification to drive a school bus.
“I feel sort of vindicated,” Dirks said of the verdict. “Finally someone has heard my voice.”