By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
More than two months after one of its officers shot a man for looking at him funny, the city of Anaheim has yet to respond to a personal injuries claim filed by the victim. That's not the unusual part—cities routinely deny such claims. What's weird is that the officer, Anaheim gang cop Scott McManus, remains on duty, despite numerous previous brutality complaints against him.
On Feb. 20, McManus shot IBM technician Jeffrey Santelli in the parking lot of the Crystal Cathedral. According to a March 7 legal claim, Santelli had driven to the Reverend Robert Schuller's shiny Garden Grove temple to give his mother a credit card so she could attend a birthday party with co-workers.
After he arrived, Santelli walked from his car to his mother's car. As he was handing her the credit card, he heard "someone hollering in his direction from somewhere around the rear of his mother's car." He turned to see "a stranger wearing shorts and a shirt standing next to a Suzuki SUV."
The stranger in question was 32-year-old plainclothes officer McManus, who was reportedly looking for a gang member he thought might be in the area. According to the claim, McManus, who was standing six to eight feet from Santelli, got down on one knee and shot Santelli in his stomach.
"Staring into her rearview mirror, Mrs. Winer [Santelli's mother] watches in horror as the stranger shoots her son, who immediately falls to the pavement," the claim states.
Santelli spent five days in the hospital undergoing surgery to remove bullet fragments from his abdomen.
Under state law, Anaheim had 30 days to approve or reject Santelli's claim for damages. If no response is issued within 45 days, it's assumed that the city has rejected the claim. That date has just passed, and on April 25, Santelli lawyer James Traut filed a lawsuit based on the assumption that Anaheim rejected the claim—despite the obvious fact that McManus shot an unarmed man in a church parking lot apparently because he mistook him for an armed and dangerous gang member.
In the past five years, at least 40 people have sought payment from the city of Anaheim regarding mental anguish and physical injuries caused by police officers. A review of those claims—nearly 400 pages—revealed that the city rejected each. The huge file also revealed that the Anaheim city attorney in some cases took months—in one case, an entire year—to respond to the complaints. The most extreme example involves Deepak Vohra, who claimed that Anaheim police officers had been stalking him. In September 1998, Vohra sent a written complaint to the city but received no response. He continued sending letters demanding a response for the next 11 months. Finally, on Aug. 25, 1999, the city rejected his claim.
But Vohra's claim pales next to those filed against McManus in the past several years. In 1997, the city agreed to pay $90,000 to Fernando Ortiz, whom McManus arrested two years earlier. During that arrest, McManus allegedly slapped Ortiz, twisted his arms and punched him in the face several times. Ortiz was pounded so hard his jaw fractured. McManus then booked Ortiz for assault on a police officer.
The $90,000 settlement resulted from a lawsuit filed by lawyer Marc Block after Anaheim's city attorney rejected Ortiz's claim. Block said the city attorney ultimately settled the case because it was clear that McManus' account of what happened didn't match the facts.
"I went to the scene of the incident with the city attorney, and we just agreed to settle the case over the back of my car," Block said.
A brief from Ortiz's federal civil-rights lawsuit shows that McManus was already the subject of at least three other brutality complaints in the previous year. Anaheim's city clerk's office has destroyed claims from that period, but a California Public Records Act request filed by the Weekly in 1996 shows that one of those complaints (also filed by Block) concerned Angelina Trinidad, who claimed McManus and another officer assaulted her after she dialed 911 to request aid in a domestic dispute.
Trinidad asserted that, after arriving at her apartment, the officers pointed their weapons at her, then grabbed her and threw her on her bed. "Her right arm was twisted behind her back, and she was handcuffed," the claim states. "She was then pulled from her bed, marched down the stairs in full view of friends and neighbors, and placed in a police vehicle and informed that she should be arrested."
Ultimately, the officers released Trinidad and arrested a man she claimed had been threatening her, and the Anaheim Police Department later sent her a written apology stating that an "unspecified disciplinary action had been taken."
Block wasn't surprised McManus was the officer who shot Santelli.
"This is what comes back eventually to bite the city," he said. "After you start getting more incidents, they've got to do something. With this guy having a history of abuse claims, after so many times, it's incumbent on the city to do something—like get rid of him. It's time this guy had a change of career."