LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A Los Angeles federal jury awarded $6 million in damages to a Compton school bus driver who claimed he was racially profiled and severely beaten by sheriff deputies after a traffic stop, attorneys said Friday.
Following a three-day civil rights trial, the jury Thursday found Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Sgt. Pablo Partida and Deputy Robert Martinez liable for excessive force and malicious prosecution against 33-year-old Deon Dirks.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the award is "excessive" and the department will likely appeal.
The case stems from a traffic stop on Wilmington Avenue in Compton the morning of Nov. 4, 2007.
Dirks contends he was ordered out of his car, pepper-sprayed, punched in the face, arrested and finally charged with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, according to plaintiff's attorney Glen Jonas. Dirks also spent five days in jail.
"We believe our deputies' use of force was appropriate," Whitmore said.
Dirks told KCAL9 and CBS2 reporter Kristine Lazar that he was in danger of losing the sight in his left eye after his eye socket was broken during the beating.
"The deputies just started punching me," Dirks told Lazar. "At that point I was thrown to the ground. And one deputy got on the back of me. And the other was in front. And he hit me in the face."
Dirks doesn't think the $6 million award was excessive at all. "They're not the ones who took a beating, or were falsely accused. And lost their job, and couldn't provide for their kids."
Jonas said a criminal jury deadlocked in favor of finding Dirks not guilty in 2008 and prosecutors subsequently dismissed all charges.
After the dismissal, Dirks filed the federal complaint, alleging deprivation of civil rights, excessive force and malicious prosecution.
During trial, Dirks argued that Partida and Martinez submitted false police reports and lied under oath during the criminal case.
After criminal proceedings, an earlier attempt in federal court was dismissed, but brought back after a successful appeal to a higher court, Whitmore said.
The deputies are still on the county payroll. In fact, Lazar reports one of the men was promoted to sergeant.
Jonas, a civil rights litigator, told Lazar he would have been happier with a $10 million judgement. "They committed crimes. Serious felonies. Federal crimes. And what does the Sheriff's department do? They promote them. It's disgusting."
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