A San Diego couple falsely detained, pepper-sprayed, and stung with a taser gun will receive $450,000 in exchange for dropping their case against the city and police officers who errantly flagged their Pontiac Sunfire as stolen after punching in the wrong tag number.
On Tuesday, December 17, city councilmembers will give the approval needed to settle the case brought by Dante Harrell and Shannon Robinson.
The incident occurred in March of 2010 as Harrell and then-fiancée Robinson were driving to Canada Steak Burger at 36th and University Avenue in City Heights.
According to court documents, officers Ariel Savage and Daniel McClain spotted the maroon Sunfire and ran the plates to check if it was stolen. One of the officers accidentally typed in the wrong plate number and the car came back as a Honda, not a Pontiac. They turned on their lights and pulled the couple over.
Before exiting the car, the officers realized their mistake. After typing in the correct numbers, the car came back clean. Yet, despite the new information, Savage and McClain continued with an investigation, asking the pair for identification and vehicle registration.
Shortly after, as reported by 10News in June of this year, Robinson called 911. While on the phone, the officers grabbed at her, eventually pepper-spraying the pair after they refused to exit the vehicle. They tased Harrell multiple times as well.
In May of this year, after years of court hearings, U.S District Court judge Anthony Battaglia ruled that the officers had violated the couple's Fourth Amendment rights.
"Defendants’ initial stop of Plaintiffs' vehicle constituted a permissible investigative detention of limited scope consistent with the Fourth Amendment, because it was not until after the Officers initiated the stop that they discovered they had made a mistake. However, upon realizing the mistake regarding the license plate, the Court finds Officer Savage's further detention and investigation of the Plaintiffs and request for identification was unconstitutional because the reasonable suspicion for the stop had dissipated when the Plaintiffs' license plate was re-checked and found to match the make and model of Plaintiffs' vehicle," reads Battaglia's ruling.
"Defendant Officers both admit that they knew before making contact with the Plaintiffs that basis for their initial suspicion that the vehicle might be stolen was unfounded and that no violation had occurred. The Defendants' mistake created the reasonable suspicion and when the Defendants realized their mistake, further investigation was both unnecessary and unwarranted."
Now, months after losing the case, the City of San Diego is trying to cut their loses.
According to a staff report prepared for Tuesday's council hearing, the $450,000 will be split three ways: $210,000 will be awarded to the couple and their passengers; $89,500 will go to Pacific Life and Annuity Services, Inc.; and $89,500 will be paid to BARCO Assignments, Ltd.
The reason for the payments to Pacific Life and Annuity and BARCO Assignments is not certain. According to BARCO Assignments website, the agency, based out of Barbados, "provides tax deferred solutions to a wide range of non-qualified settlements in a manner that reflects the time honored of excellence inherent to the structured settlement industry."
The City Attorney's Office has not yet responded to questions about the two payments. The story will be updated when a response is provided.