The matter of paying the ultimate cost of an early-morning Gaslamp Quarter brawl involving San Diego police is coming up for approval by the city council, and the price for settling a pepper-spray case again turns out to be high.
As previously reported here, the cops tangled with Travis Wilkerson, wife Victoria Garcia, brother Tyler Wilkerson, and friend Andrew Harlin on an E Street sidewalk during the wee hours of December 3, 2011. According to a federal court trial brief, Travis Wilkerson had words with a man who sucker-punched him and ran off before police arrived.
Kevin Armentano and Craig Shumate, "were working as uniform officers in the downtown Gaslamp area, at the 500 block of E Street," according to the document. Officers "approached and violently grabbed Travis Wilkerson and threw him to the ground, without cause or necessity," the December 1, 2014, brief by Wilkerson's lawyer asserted.
"Mr. Wilkerson’s head hit the pavement, causing a serious head injury, abrasions to his face and head and two chipped teeth. Mr. Wilkerson was handcuffed and arrested without probable cause.”
In addition, Wilkerson "was pepper-sprayed, without justification. Handcuffs were applied in an excessively tight manner, causing pain and injury. The force and violence used by the defendant police officers was wholly unnecessary and grossly excessive. Travis Wilkerson was taken to jail. No charges were filed against him."
Travis's brother Tyler was "grabbed, kneed in the leg, handcuffed and arrested without probable cause. He was pepper-sprayed and taken to jail without justification, necessity or probable cause. No charges were filed against him."
Their friend Harlin "was grabbed from behind, taken to the ground and handcuffed for no reason. An officer repeatedly slammed Mr. Harlin’s face and head into the pavement, knocking him out and causing severe injuries."
During the trial, the city argued that the men were inebriated and out of control. Travis "initially avoided Armentano’s grasp, but was so drunk and unsteady he tripped over a curb, hitting his head on the ground. He was arrested for disorderly conduct (alcohol),” according to the city’s brief.
In its February 19 verdict, the jury ruled against the city, finding that Armentano arrested Travis Wilkerson without probable cause with unreasonable force, and awarded damages of $45,000. Punitive damages were set at $10,000, according to court records.
Shumate, the jury ruled, had busted Harlin without probable cause and used unreasonable force. Damages were determined to be $50,000, with punitive damages of $7500.
But the ultimate tab, scheduled for a May 19 vote by the city council, turns out to be considerably higher than that.
The motion up for council consideration provides for payment of $643,100 "in settlement of each and every claim for damages, interest, costs, and fees of any type, including attorney fees."
The amount is about half the reported $1.2 million settlement the County of San Diego paid in October 2010 to eight attendees allegedly pepper-sprayed by sheriff's deputy Marshall Abbott at a June 2009 fundraiser for then-Democratic congressional candidate Francine Busby. Abbott had arrived at the party to investigate a noise complaint.
Republican district attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to prosecute the two women taken into custody by the sheriff's office during the incident, though she claimed they had violated the law by obstructing Marshall. Dumanis also passed on citing the deputy.
Michael Merrinan, the lawyer in that case, also handled Wilkerson’s and Hardin’s suit against the city.