FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — Kern County and its sheriff's officers have settled a 3-year old lawsuit accusing them of illegally arresting a man and seizing his cellphone after he recorded them beating another man to death.
Kern County Counsel Andrew Thompson declined in a Wednesday interview to reveal the settlement amount, saying it is confidential. He did say, however, that the county and three named sheriff’s officers had settled to save money, not because they were liable for their actions.
Thompson said that trying the case would have set the county $70,000 to $100,000, twice what it would have cost to "just provide some settlement money to the other side."
That would put the settlement figure in the $35,000 to $50,000 range.
“The resolution is an economic decision, not a comment on the underlying facts of the case,” Thompson said. “Our position could have been sustained very well at trial.”
Francisco Arrieta said in a March 2014 lawsuit that he and four other people recorded sheriff's officers beating a man with batons across the street from Kern Medical Center early on May 7, 2013.
David Sal Silva, a father of four, died from his injuries shortly after the beating. His young children filed a wrongful death suit against Kern County two months later.
Sulina Quair-Vasquez, Melissa Quair, Laura Vasquez and Maria Melendez also witnessed the beating. They also sued, and the cases were consolidated and an amended complaint filed in July 2014.
When sheriff's investigators went to Quair-Vasquez’s apartment to interview them, Arrieta said that they demanded his cellphone without a warrant, and refused to let him leave until he gave it to them.
Melendez, who also recorded the beating, said the detectives also went to her apartment that morning and demanded her cellphone without a warrant. She said they harassed her for two hours before obtaining one and confiscating her phone.
In February 2016, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill dismissed the plaintiffs’ excessive force claims, but allowed claims that the deputies improperly seized Arrieta’s phone to proceed.
The defendants argued that they needed the phone to make a copy of the video before Arrieta erased it. But a transcript of the early morning questioning suggests that the officers did copy the video, and O'Neill said that the defendants hadn't shown why they needed the phone.
Kern County's Thompson downplayed the allegations Wednesday.
"As civil litigation cases go, this was not a particularly big case, nor was it a particularly good case for the plaintiffs," he said.
“There was no determination of liability against any of them," he said of the sheriff's deputies. "The County of Kern also is not admitting any guilt in the matter."
The defendants were Kern County, Dets. Brewer and Kimmel, Sgt. Smallwood and Does 1 to 100.
The plaintiffs were represented by Daniel Rodriguez and Chantal Trujillo of Rodriguez & Associates in Bakersfield. Neither attorney could be reached for comment Wednesday.
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