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No Civil Rights Violation in Bizarre Domestic Spat

(CN) - A police officer had probable cause to arrest a lawyer for allegedly assaulting his father-in-law with a candlestick, regardless of the fact that the officer later had an affair with the suspect's estranged wife, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The case began in 2007 when Robert Yousefian called the police and claimed that his father-in-law, Matavos Moradian, had attacked him in his Glendale, Calif., home.

When Officer Michael Lizarraga arrived, however, he found Moradian lying on the floor and bleeding from a head wound, whereas Yousefian was not injured.

Yousefian told the officer that he hit Moradian with a candlestick after Moradian began beating him with his cane - claims that Moradian and his daughter, Nora - Yousefian's estranged wife - disputed.

Lizarraga placed Yousefian under arrest, and later met with Nora at the hospital where Moradian was receiving treatment. When Nora told Lizarraga that Yousefian kept drugs in his car, Lizarraga gave Nora his cellphone number and told her to call him if she found any drugs.

Shortly thereafter, Nora called and told Lizarraga that she found the drugs. Lizarranga booked the drugs into evidence but did not re-arrest Yousefian.

The officer continued talking with Nora via text message, however, and their relationship soon became sexual. Lizarraga said in court that his "friends with benefits" arrangement with Nora fizzled after a year.

Yousefian meanwhile faced charges for assault, elder abuse and drug possession. He consistently denied that the drugs were his and maintained that Nora planted them.

After hearing evidence of Lizarraga's improper conduct with Yousefian's wife, a jury ultimately cleared Yousefian of all charges. Lizarraga's texts revealed that the officer encouraged Nora to lie to conceal their relationship.

The Glendale police department later fired Lizarraga for conduct unbecoming an officer.

A federal judge dismissed Yousefian's subsequent civil rights suit against the city, however, and against Lizarraga individually.

The 9th Circuit affirmed Thursday.

"There was indisputably probable cause to arrest and prosecute Yousefian for assault and elder abuse," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the three-judge panel.

"A police officer who finds an elderly and infirm man bleeding profusely from a head wound admittedly inflicted by a younger man without significant injuries will have probable cause to believe that the latter has committed assault."

Lizarraga did not ignore Yousefian's claims of self-defense - which a jury ultimately found compelling - but acted upon a reasonable interpretation of the scene in front of him, the Pasadena-based court ruled.

Furthermore, Lizarraga's subsequent sexual relationship with Yousefian's wife does not undermine the arrest's probable cause because it began after all the evidence relating to the altercation had been collected and documented, Reinhardt said.

"Still, we would urge municipalities and other employers of law enforcement officers to ensure that conduct like Lizarraga's is neither permitted in the course of officers' official duties nor condoned thereafter," the opinion concludes. "In doing so, we intimate no criticism of the city of Glendale, which took the appropriate action after Lizarraga's conduct came to light."

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