Verdict in Belmot Park Shooting
San Diego — A 23-year old youth counselor who was shot twice by an off-duty National City police officer working as a security guard at Belmont Park in Mission Beach has been awarded $1.6 million by a jury.
The san Diego Superior Court jury awarded Chris Norris $600,000 in general damages and, after 30 more minutes of deliberation late Friday, $1 million in punitive damages.
The verdict in the lawsuit was returned against Wells Fargo Guard Service, which lawyers for Norris, described as one of the largest private security firms in the country. National City police officer Charles Willkomm was employed as a guard at Belmont Park when he shot Norris.
One of Norris’ lawyers Robert Dyer said the verdict spotlights the issue of whether police officers should be allowed to moonlight as security guards. They’re sending these guys out there who have only the powers of a private citizen, but they have the mentality of police officer. That isn’t a good mix.”
David Medvedoff, the lawyer for Wells Fargo, declined to comment. San Diego Police said the shooting was prompted by rowdy bystanders who got into a fight with security guards after being told to leave.
During the trial, however, testimony revealed that Willkomm and two other guards approached Norris, then 21 and student at San Diego State University, and three friends at Belmont Park and ordered them to leave the area. Douglas S. Gilliland, another of Norris’ lawyers, said the security guard service claimed the park had become a gathering place for young African-American men and that they frightened customers at nearby stores.
Norris, who is black, said he is not sure why the guards, who are white, approached him and this friends because other blacks were in the area too. “I think he was trying to make an example out of me for the rest of the public: ‘We tell you to go, and you’ve got to go.'” Norris said in an interview yesterday. Norris said he and his friends repeatedly asked why they were being ordered to leave. They finally were told they were loitering. “I said, ‘You guys came to us for no reason. Until you give us a reason why, I’m not going anywhere,'” Norris said.
Norris was sprayed with Mace and he began swinging wildly, hitting Willkomm in the face and knocking him backward Gilliland said. Willkomm shot Norris twice, hitting him in the chest and right elbow. Norris felt his body go numb as the guards ordered him to put his hands behind his back. Norris responded, “‘I can’t move.’ They took my hands and pulled them around and handcuffed me” Norris said. “I started screaming because one of the bullets had shattered my elbow.”
Norris was taken to Scripps Mercy where he was in intensive care for three days. He said he had to drop out of SDSU to undergo physical therapy and that he still has trouble with his arm.
“I almost lost my life because in their minds I was loitering,” he said. Gilliland said officer Willkomm still works for Wells Fargo.
Norris lives in North Park, is a homework counselor at a Boys and Girls Club in Encanto. He said he has put the incident behind him and has forgiven Willkomm. “I don’t even know the man. Why should I hold a grudge against him?” he asked.
Norris said the best part of the verdict was when Willkomm approached him and expressed remorse for the shooting. “When he apologized, he seemed genuine about it, because he shed a few tears,” Norris said. “That was my biggest prayer — that was my biggest prayer — that we could go on , that we wouldn’t be enemies.”
The police departments in National City and San Diego are the only ones that allow officers to moonlight as private security guards. Last fall San Diego Police chief Jerry Sanders banned moonlighting expressing concern about force some officers might use as guards. Force appropriately used by police to make an arrest might be excessive in security work, he said.
The San Diego Police Officers Association persuaded a judge to lift the ban temporarily. The matter is set for trial in September.
Police Chief Skip DiCerchio of National City said he was unaware of the Norris lawsuit until a reporter told him about it. He said he would review the case.
California Supreme Court Highlights
Los Angeles Daily Journal
The California Supreme Court let stand a $1.6 million dollar judgment in favor of a young man that was maced and shot by private security guards after protesting their orders to leave an amusement park.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the verdict. Justice Don Work, writing for the Court wrote, “In sum, the record is clear the guards approached Norris with the intention of removing him from the park without a public offense having been committed.”
None of the Supreme Court justices voted to review the Court of Appeal’s decision in Norris v. Borg-Warner Protective Services Corp., D026411.
Emmy Award Winning Producers Acquitted
By Onell Soto
San Diego — For years, two Los Angeles television producers told authorities they were unwitting pawns in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of millions of dollars.
The Emmy Award-winning producers, Linda York and Francine Bergman, said their role was solely to create commercials and infomercials for products that promised, among other things, to repel mosquitos with sound, hold ponytails in place and soak up garage spills. One of the commercials featured Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” trying to give a $1 million prize to a woman who doesn’t hear him at the door because she is so busy making cheap long-distance calls. York and Bergman say they didn’t know their business partners were using telemarketers in San Diego and elsewhere to swindle investors in a classic pyramid scheme.
Good Morning America taping
This month, a San Diego federal jury agreed, acquitting them of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and other charges for which they could have faced 10 years in prison. “We told them we had no idea what was going on,” Bergman said after the verdicts. “We didn’t make any money. “We were so fortunate to have a group of people from San Diego who could think.”
Others in the scheme have pleaded guilty, including Mark McClafferty, a British man who is scheduled to be sentenced in December in San Diego federal court. He admitted orchestrating the scheme prosecutors say netted $18 million in a little more than a year from people across the country sold on the idea that investing in television ads was a way to get big returns in a short amount of time.
York and Bergman faced an uphill legal battle. Few defendants in federal court take their case to trial. Fewer defendants still are acquitted.
Most cases end in plea agreements, but that was impossible in this case because prosecutors demanded prison time and the women were unwilling to concede they had committed felonies, defense lawyers said. In this case, prosecutors had McClafferty testify on their behalf.
Putting on the ringleader’s testimony against the two producers was a “perversion,” said Eugene Iredale, Bergman’s defense lawyer. Ultimately, Iredale and fellow lawyer Douglas Gilliland pit the convicted criminal’s word against that of their clients. “You have to figure out who you believe,” Iredale recalled telling jurors. “He’s made a living lying to people.”
Bergman and York met McClafferty about 10 years ago when he worked down the hall from their offices in Santa Monica. They were veterans in the television production business and, after producing game shows including “The $25,000 Pyramid,” were making commercials and infomercials shown late at night across the country. McClafferty “was so charming,” Bergman recalled. He said he was working on selling exercise equipment. That struck a chord with her because of the many health-related products sold through television.
About a year later, he approached her during a Las Vegas infomercial convention and before long, they had joined forces. McClafferty and his partners raised money and York, Bergman and a third partner produced and placed the commercials. It is unclear why the third partner wasn’t prosecuted. The products included the Sonic Mosquito Repellent, the Hair Doodle, the Miracle Mat and the Plug-n-Start, which hooked up to cigarette lighter sockets on cars to serve as jumper cables for dead batteries. “We totally trusted him,” Bergman said. “We thought this was a wonderful opportunity.”
Prosecutors say McClafferty also hooked up with telemarketers with large telephone banks – boiler rooms, investigators call them – where callers with sophisticated scripts reached out to potential investors. From telephone banks in San Diego, Los Angeles, Florida and Colorado, the calls went out, prosecutors said. For $5,000, investors who bought 80 to 100 television spots were promised a 10 percent to 26 percent return from the expected sales in 90 days, investigators said. Investors with more money were offered $100,000 equity partnerships, and were told they were buying a piece of the business, according to the charges.
It was a sham. As in other pyramid schemes, the money wasn’t really invested. Early investors were paid from the money newcomers paid in. Prosecutors told jurors that Bergman and York had to know what was going on because they took part in writing the scripts used to solicit money. Iredale and Gilliland said the two knew nothing.
McClafferty and two other con men who also pleaded guilty pocketed more than $1 million each from the scam. York and Bergman, spent the money they got producing the ads and each took home about $35,000, Iredale said. “They were the dupes, . . . the fall guys,” Iredale said.
In an effort to convince jurors, the defense lawyers presented character witnesses, including one-time “Pyramid” host Dick Clark, who testified via videotape because of a recent stroke.
After deliberating for three days, jurors acquitted the two of all charges. Bergman and York said they have been devastated financially because they hooked up with a crook and were not believed by authorities. “We’re broke, we have no money,” Bergman said. “We have to start all over again.”
‘Bumfights’ Participant Sues
Anna Gorman — Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
SAN DIEGO — Lawyers for a homeless man who appeared in the controversial “Bumfights” video have filed a civil suit against the filmmakers for violating the man’s privacy. Peter LaForte, 31, alleges in the lawsuit that the filmmakers did not get his permission to videotape him fighting with a 275-pound woman in October 2001 or to use the video for commercial purposes.
Attorney Mark Quigley said the video — which was sold underground on the Internet and in stores for $20 — caused his client “constant shame, embarrassment and humiliation.”
The defendants “should not be allowed to profit from their wrongful conduct,” said Quigley, who filed the suit Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court.
According to the suit, the woman approached LaForte and asked if he would participate in a videotaped fight. He declined, but the filmmakers taped them when the woman attacked LaForte and a fight ensued, the suit said. LaForte refused to sign a release.
Doug Gilliland, who represents the filmmakers in the civil suit, said, “I think that when the [filmmakers’] side of the story comes out, the civil case is going to go the same way of the criminal case.”
In January, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the filmmakers, Ryan McPherson, Zachary Bubeck, Daniel J. Tanner and Michael Slyman, would not face felony charges. They now face misdemeanor charges and are due in criminal court today.
Jury Awards Verdict Against Former Mrs. America
Los Angeles Daily Journal — Litigators in Focus
In 1981, Jill Scott and Plaintiff G.E. Scott were married. In 1990, she was crowned Mrs. America. In June 1998, a San Diego jury awarded $690,000 to Mr. Scott after his now ex-wife and her new husband Rick Chance hired bounty hunters to seize Scott in Belleville, Kansas, handcuff him and drive him back to San Diego to attend a family court hearing.
G.E. Scott was represented by San Diego lawyers Eugene G. Iredale and Douglas S. Gilliland. Iredale, a Harvard Law School graduate and prominent criminal defense attorney said Scott was doing well financially during the middle of their marriage. But when his business declined, the couple divorced. They had two children. The court granted custody of one child to each parent. Jill Scott remarried to the Arizona auto glass mogul Rich Chance. G.E. Scott moved to Belleville, Kansas with his son where he began working at a Taco Bell and fell behind on child support payment to Jill Scott-Chance. Despite the fact that she re-married a multi-millionaire and was living in a mansion in Scottdale, Arizona, Jill Scott-Chance and her husband hired San Diego attorney Ian Lockhon who obtained a court order for G.E. Scott to appear in family law court in San Diego regarding unpaid child support.
Scott-Chance and her husband then hired two bounty hunters who seized G.E. Scott at gun-point from his Kansas home and drove him handcuffed to San Diego. “It was just a sign of the incredible arrogance of the defendant and her wealthy husband, that they believed that if you have enough money, you just buy things. If you are angry at an ex-husband, you buy his incarceration” Iredale said.
Iredale and Gilliland brought the lawsuit against Jill-Scott Chance, her attorney Lockhon and the bounty hunters. Gilliland said the jury awarded G.E. Scott damages for false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Damages for these torts are not covered by insurance under California law. But the Chance’s homeowners’ insurance carrier for their Arizona home was defending the case and these torts are covered under Arizona law. Gilliland said the jury also awarded punitive damages against both Jill Scott-Chance and Ian Lockhon.
FBI to Pay Man $190,000 to Settle Wrong-Arrest Case
Ray Huard — Staff Writer
A San Diego man wrongfully arrested by an FBI agent in May 2000 will get $190,000 from the federal agency in a federal court settlement. Julian Christopher Lee was arrested on a warrant that an FBI agent knew to be false, Lee’s lawyer, Douglas Gilliland said Monday. The settlement approved Friday by federal Magistrate Judge Ruben B. Brooks follows a 2004 federal appeals court ruling that allowed Lee to continue the suit he filed against the FBI and agent Jake Gregory, Gilliland said.
“They knowingly had the wrong person put in jail for not cooperating with the agent,” Gilliland said. He said the case “should be able to guide future FBI agents with what they can and can’t do.” “Clearly, if somebody doesn’t want to participate with your investigation, you can’t have that person arrested so you can interrogate them further,” Gilliland said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office which represented Gregory and the FBI, declined comment. In a separate suit filed by Gilliland and San Diego attorney Eugene Iredale, Lee won an $81,000 jury verdict in June 2002 against the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, the agency that locked him up for five days. The government had previously argued that Lee was arrested by mistake instead of his brother, Robert, a fugitive wanted on robbery and assault charges.
Gilliland said Lee’s brother had assumed Lee’s identity, using his Social Security number and driver’s license. When Lee refused to cooperate with Gregory, the agent called Dade County, Florida and asked for a copy of an outstanding arrest warrant to be faxed to him, Gilliland said. The warrant named a “Christopher Lee” but contained Julian’s date of birth and Social Security number, Gilliland said. He said it also described a man who was 90 pounds lighter and two inches shorter than Julian Lee.
Otay Water Report Faults Inspectors
By Ann Krueger — San Diego Union Tribune
Chula Vista — A cascade of errors by Otay Water District inspectors, contractors and others caused treated sewage to flow into the drinking water of an Eastlake business park instead of drinking water, according to a district report. The report concludes that Otay inspectors – including one who admitted soliciting bribes on other projects – didn’t follow regulations or missed signs that pipes weren’t properly connected during construction of the Fenton Business Center on Fenton Street.
The report will be presented to the Otay board today, along with an update on steps taken to ensure a similar incident won’t happen again, General Manager Mark Watton said. The water district has been investigating what went wrong at the business park since Aug. 17 tests from a private laboratory showed the tap water was recycled – treated sewage intended for irrigation, not drinking.
Otay officials say a pipe carrying recycled water was mistakenly connected to a meter for drinking water two years ago. The engineer on the project, Irvine-based Hunsaker and Associates, submitted “inaccurate, incomplete and confusing” construction plans, the district said. The plans Otay received did not show recycled water pipes, although grading plans submitted to the city of Chula Vista showed the pipes.
An Otay inspector should have noted the inconsistency in his inspection records and asked to see plan revisions, the report said. The inspector is identified only as “Inspector A” in the report. Watton confirmed the inspector was William Cooper, who resigned in August 2004 after he was charged with accepting one bribe and soliciting another on Chula Vista residential projects. Cooper pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in a work-furlough program and three years’ probation. The report noted that Civil Constructors Corp. of El Cajon, a contractor on the Fenton project, was the same company involved in the Cooper case.
Officials at Hunsaker and Associates and Civil Constructors Corp. could not be reached yesterday. “Do I wish our inspector would have highlighted that (problem at Fenton)? Absolutely,” Watton said. “Is it sensational in the fact that our inspector was arrested for accepting bribes on another project? I don’t think so.”
Because Cooper was no longer working for the district, a consultant served as the inspector during a final walk-through in December 2004. Cooper’s records were “very poor,” the report said. The project was later accepted by the district. An inspection supervisor didn’t ensure the construction records reflected what was actually built.
Another Otay inspector caught one mistake but made a key error in the treated sewage mix-up. The inspector discovered a drinking water pipe incorrectly connected to a recycled water meter in July 2005. He had that meter replaced. But that same day, he ordered a new meter for another pipe without checking whether the pipe carried recycled or drinking water, the report said. The meter for drinking water was placed on a recycled water line.
Watton said disciplinary action is being considered against Otay employees who didn’t follow procedures. The district is focusing now on preventing a similar incident, Watton said. It is making sure recycled-water connections are more clearly marked, with purple designating the attachments between a purple recycling pipe and the meter. Otay employees will also now test the water at the meter and at a new customer’s tap, he said.
In the meantime, employees in the business park are visiting their doctors. Joe Padilla, who owns a computer repair store, said that although his water was declared safe Aug. 24, Otay employees returned to his store last week and replaced his faucets. He said he’s not sure whether to drink the water. “They need to be a little more clear on what the situation is. Is it safe or not safe?” he said. The district said it fixed the problem, and state officials declared the water safe in late August.