A jury ruled in favor of the city of Los Angeles and former Police Chief Charlie Beck Tuesday in a federal civil lawsuit alleging that Beck deliberately and knowingly promoted an officer to sergeant three weeks after the lawman had been found liable for excessive force and malice in an off-duty assault of a Whittier man.
The jury asked U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson to stay past 5 p.m. rather than return to deliberate Wednesday morning, producing the verdict less than 15 minutes later in what turned out to be a one-day trial.
Earlier Tuesday, Beck — looking fit in a sleek suit — took the witness stand and told the eight-member jury that as manager of a police department of 14,000 employees, it was one of his tasks to sign monthly multi-name transfer orders documenting moves among his officers. He said that in July 2017, he signed a transfer list of 200 names — among them officer Mario Cardona.
But Beck testified that although he had read a newspaper article a month earlier about Cardona’s earlier legal troubles, he did not realize the officer’s name was among those on the promotions list.
Attorneys for plaintiff Daniel Garza argued that Beck and the city of Los Angeles should pay $300,000 in damages to compensate Garza for the emotional distress he suffered as an alleged result of the ex-chief deliberately and knowingly approving Cardona’s promotion to sergeant.
Beck said he was only “slightly aware” of the allegations against Cardona when he signed the form, and had no idea the officer’s name was on the list.
Garza testified that he had a “hard time believing” that Cardona had been promoted, and has suffered depression, sleeplessness and fear of police ever since finding out.
“It really broke my heart,” he told the jury. “It really crushed me.”
In 2017, a federal jury determined that Cardona used unreasonable force on May 14, 2015, in an off-duty attack on Garza in which the lawman asserted his police authority. Garza had broken up with Cardona’s stepdaughter before the incident.
V. James DeSimone, Garza’s attorney, alleged that Cardona punched the then-Cal State Los Angeles student in the face and forced him to the ground; video allegedly showed Cardona using a pain compliance wrist-lock when Daniel was handcuffed, not resisting and prone on the ground.
The jury awarded Garza $210,000 and U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson — who is overseeing the current trial — approved another $663,000 in attorney’s fees. Wilson initially ruled that only Cardona would be held liable and dropped Beck and the LAPD from the suit. The city refused to indemnify Cardona and he filed for bankruptcy.
However, last week, Wilson concluded that “as a matter of law that former Chief Beck was the final policymaker with respect to the particular issues in this case” and that 30-year-old Garza could seek damages for harm he allegedly suffered when Beck sent him a letter informing him that the investigation showed Cardona’s conduct to have been lawful, DeSimone said.
Attorneys for the city argued that Garza could not prove that Beck knew about the results of the earlier lawsuit against Cardona when he signed the transfer order.