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Man wins $620,000 verdict against Long Beach police in brutality lawsuit

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Ray Webb, 62, says he was beaten, choked and shocked with a Taser by Long Beach police during a violent traffic stop in 2011. A federal jury this week awarded him $620,000 in an excessive-force lawsuit.
(Elliot Tiomkin)

A federal jury awarded $620,000 Tuesday to a Long Beach man who says he was beaten, choked and shocked with a stun gun by city police officers during a 2011 traffic stop.

Ray Webb, 62, said officers illegally searched his vehicle, ordered him out of the car and proceeded to beat him with flashlights and batons before shocking him with a Taser several times, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court. Webb, who has a heart condition, has suffered a heart attack and experienced severe vision problems since the October 2011 incident, according to the lawsuit.

According to the suit, Webb said officers stopped him because one of his taillights was out, a claim he denies. At some point, the officers determined a female passenger in Webb’s vehicle was on probation, and they ordered both Webb and the passenger out of the car. The officers claimed Webb or the woman consented to the search, which Webb also denies, according to the suit.

At some point, Webb began to walk away from the car and criticized the officers’ conduct after they removed a box from his car that contained cocaine. Webb says the drugs were not his.

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The officers approached Webb, but two of them “collided and fell to the ground,” according to the suit.

“I knew they was upset,” Webb, a retired truck driver who has lived in Long Beach for nearly four decades, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I seen them coming at me and that told me just to drop.”

Webb said he crumpled to the ground and raised his arms to protect himself. The officers then struck him at least 20 times with batons and “heavy-duty flashlights,” the complaint said. Webb lost consciousness at least twice during the clash, as officers “took turns” placing him in chokeholds, according to the suit.

Webb said that he was kept in a chokehold the entire time and that one officer approached him and began swinging a baton, without a word.

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“Although at least four officers were present, they made no attempt to communicate with each other, deescalate the situation or even handcuff Plaintiff throughout the assault,” according to the lawsuit. “At no time during the encounter was a specific command or an opportunity to comply with any order, lawful or otherwise, ever given to Plaintiff, who was vastly outnumbered, unarmed, made no threats, and struck no one.”

Webb said Wednesday that he had no idea how long the beating lasted but that he was hospitalized for two days afterward.

“Something like that, a minute seems like thirty minutes or so,” he said.

The search of the vehicle was later deemed to be improper by a Superior Court judge, according to court records. Webb was charged with cocaine possession and resisting arrest in October 2011, but all charges were dropped less than two months later, records show.

The Long Beach police officers involved in the incident were identified as Alejandro Cazares, Julie Lacey Ackerman, Harrison Moore and Tomas Diaz.

Sgt. Brad Johnson, a Long Beach police spokesman, said Cazares, Ackerman and Moore remain on duty and assigned to the patrol bureau. Diaz resigned in April 2016 and is no longer employed by the city, according to Johnson, who would not say why.

Johnson declined to comment on Webb’s description of events or the verdict. He also declined to say what, if any, discipline the officers faced, citing state law that bars such information from being made public.

Long Beach Deputy City Atty. Howard Russell said his office will consider appealing the judgment.

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“We respect the jury’s time and their effort. We just don’t agree with the conclusion that they reached,” he said.

“This verdict sends a loud and clear message that police brutality and excessive force is not acceptable. No amount of money will ever change what happened to Mr. Webb,” Webb’s attorney, Elliott Tiomkin, said in a statement. “The officers claimed that Mr. Webb did not respect them and that he deserved to be beaten into submission. Obviously, the jury did not buy this argument.”

The verdict is the latest in a series of lawsuits against Long Beach police that have resulted in hefty payouts from the city.

Last year, Long Beach paid $6.5 million to settle three separate wrongful-death suits filed by the families of unarmed men shot and killed by police officers in recent years.

In July, the city agreed to pay $3 million to the family of Tyler Woods, who was unarmed and running from police when he was shot 19 times by officers in 2013.

The family of Jason Conoscenti, whose shooting was captured on video and stoked heavy criticism of the department, settled with the city for $2 million in August 2016. Conoscenti, who was being sought by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after an allegation that he stole something from a Target store in Compton, fled into Long Beach, where he was shot while running down a staircase.

The city also settled with the family of Hector Morejon, an unarmed teenager who was fatally shot in the back by a city police officer in 2015, for $1.5 million last year.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to bring charges against the officers involved in each of those shootings, though prosecutors sharply criticized Officer Jeffrey Meyer in Morejon’s death, calling his actions “deeply troubling” and blaming him for turning what should have been a routine encounter into a fatal shooting.

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Webb said he still has nightmares about the incident with police, suffering one such bad dream as recently as two weeks ago. The sight of police officers sometimes makes him “nervous and paranoid” now, which it never had before.

“I have nothing, and I mean nothing, against the police. I have friends that are police and retired policemen, and I respect the police wholeheartedly,” he said. “Saying that, I was more than delighted of the ruling. It took five years, and I lived every year for that ruling.”

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.

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UPDATES:

5:35 p.m.: This story has been updated with comments from the Long Beach city attorney’s office.

1:35 p.m.: This story has been updated with comments from Webb.

This story was first published at 11:55 a.m.


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