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Tentative Settlement Reached In Suit Against Desert Hot Springs Police Officers

(CNS) – An undisclosed tentative settlement was reached Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by a man and his family who allege brutality by Desert Hot Springs police.

Edward Moore, downtown maintenance supervisor for the Palm Springs Department of Parks and Recreation, and family members alleged they were roughed up by officers who responded to a hit-and-run crash involving two of Moore’s daughters in front of their Desert Hot Springs home on July 16, 2005.

They filed the lawsuit a year later against the city and its police department, seeking $15 million in damages.

The proposed settlement was reached after more than two weeks of testimony heard by jurors in the civil case. Attorneys and members of the Moore family said they could not disclose the terms until the settlement is formally approved, which is expected in a week or so.

A board made up of representatives of about three dozen Southern California cities that pool legal resources must sign off on the settlement, according to attorney Joe McMillin, who represents the city.

McMillin declined to discuss the outcome, other than to say, “Finally, both sides decided to settle the case.”

Moore said the family didn’t want to settle, but felt they had little choice.

“They made a motion to dismiss the cops in the (suit), and we would have had no case after that,” he said outside court. “They made us an offer.”

He said his family was happy it was over, but not with the way it ended.

“I think we could have gotten a better judgment. We wanted to be allowed to put on a proper case. But we’re glad the story’s out there and want it known people don’t have to let DHS police brutalize them,” he said.

“We have been at loggerheads trying to introduce what little evidence we were allowed … That made a settlement more viable,” said Alexander Perez, the family’s attorney.

Cherie Froyd, Moore’s wife, indicated the settlement was “pennies” compared to what the family had sought.

According to the lawsuit, two of Moore’s daughters were involved in a collision when they were arriving home, and the other vehicle left the scene. Family members wrote down the hit-and-run vehicle’s license plate number and called 911, according to court documents.

Moore claims he asked arriving officers to find the suspected hit-and-run vehicle, but Sgt. Anthony Sclafani began yelling at him “while another officer came up behind Moore, grabbed Moore’s neck, sprayed Moore … in the face with pepper spray, and tackled Moore to the ground.”

The plaintiffs said officers ordered several family members to stay inside the house, including a woman filming them with a video camera. They allege that an officer grabbed a woman, twisted her arm, handcuffed her and “smashed her into the wall, face-first.” She lost consciousness and awoke pinned to the ground by officers who fired pepper spray in her face, the suit says.

The plaintiffs allege police also used pepper spray on other family members; choked another female family member and shoved another against a wall; and shoved Moore to the ground, kicked him and “choked him into unconsciousness.”

Moore and a female family member were taken to jail and later released.

Attorneys for the officers and the city maintain that Moore was “hostile” and “verbally abusive” when the first officer arrived after the hit-and-run. The officer called for backup because of the number of people milling outside the house and because of Moore’s attitude, defense attorneys stated in a trial brief.

According to the defense court papers, one of the home’s female residents “jumped on Officer (Michael) Valentich’s back and began to strike him. He pushed her away and when she came back, he then sprayed her with some pepper spray.”

Five officers — Sclafani, Valentich, Matthew Drew, David Henderson and Stephen O’Connor — were named in the lawsuit.

Sclafani was indicted a year ago on two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law for allegedly using a Taser and pepper spray on suspects in custody. His trial is under way in federal court in Los Angeles.

Last year, Henderson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor civil rights charge of deprivation of rights in federal court for using a Taser on a handcuffed suspect and was sentenced to probation and community service.

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