SAN DIEGO (CN) – The man who fought a four-year discrimination battle against San Diego police died by apparent suicide this week, just two weeks after losing his case.
Will Walters was found dead in his apartment Wednesday night after his landlord did a welfare check, Walters’ attorney Chris Morris said in a phone interview.
Walters sued the city and members of its police department after officers cited him for public nudity at the 2011 Gay Pride Parade. Walters refused to sign the misdemeanor ticket – he wore a leather “micro kilt” over thong underwear – and officers arrested him, and he spent a night in jail.
His 2012 lawsuit claimed the city discriminated against him and violated his civil rights because the police department did not enforce its nudity laws uniformly, as women at San Diego beaches and other special events are not arrested for public nudity.
The case went to trial earlier this month after being revived in April, when a Ninth Circuit panel reversed and remanded U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo’s 2014 summary judgment for the city. The court’s three-judge panel found Walters had made enough of a case for discrimination that a jury should decide if the city unfairly targeted Walters.
But it took eight jurors less than two hours after the weeklong trial to clear San Diego police of the discrimination claim.
Morris said he received word of his client’s death Thursday morning, when the City Attorney’s Office called his firm.
The attorney said his client retreated in the days following his Dec. 13 court loss, leaving the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read. Morris said he and his associates had been trying to get in touch with Walters the past couple weeks, even making house calls to his apartment only to be turned away. One of the attorney’s staff members even asked Walters if he felt suicidal and Walters denied feeling that way, Morris said.
“The saddest thing about this case is all he ever wanted was an apology,” Morris said. “That became an obsession for him and unfortunately it ended in this tragedy.”
The attorney discredited media reports which claimed Walters owed Morris’ firm $1 million in legal fees, saying Walters did not owe him that amount but that it is what he would have requested from the court had they been successful on their civil rights claim.
“He was anxious to pay back members of the community who had helped but he did not personally owe me $1 million,” Morris said.
Morris said Walters became an “equal protection advocate” and the case was about ensuring diverse San Diego communities are treated the same way under the law.
While the attorney said he deals with tragedy daily, as he represents many clients in wrongful death and jail suicide cases, this is the first time he’s had a client die by suicide following a verdict.