Garden Grove Pays Half a Million to Settle Brutality Suit With Santos Family
Remember that feature story from last year, "Party Crashers"? The one with the cover artwork showing a birthday cake with all these cops as candles and the headline that said "At this Garden Grove Family Barbecue, the Cops Brought the Pepper Spray and Handcuffs?"
The story concerned a lawsuit stemming from a Sept. 11, 2004 incident in which several members of the Santos family who were celebrating a birthday were arrested and charged with such crimes as resisting arrest and lynching after a Garden Grove cop got into an argument with the head of the family.
To the cop, Officer Omar Patel, Frank Santos might have looked like a gang member, since he's Latino and had tattoos and a closed-cropped haircut. Unfortunately for Patel, it turned out Santos was actually a former prison guard. When Patel pulled up to the birthday party after another family member, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, called police to report his car being stolen--it was actually being towed--he marched right up to Santos and the two got in an argument, during which Santos said "Get the fuck out of here." Patel allegedly went bat-shit crazy and chased Santos around a yard, at one point stumbling over a small brick wall and then pulling out a can of pepper spray, waving it in the air like a bottle of Lysol.
He then called for backup; more than a dozen gang-unit officers showed up, violently pushed everyone in the family to the ground and hauled them off to jail. Charges were later dropped against everyone that night. As I also reported in that story, the Garden Grove Police Department investigated Patel's conduct and found that it did not meet the department's standards, especially with regard to treating members of the public with common courtesy.
In a separate follow-up story about the charges being dropped against Frank Santos--he was the last of the family to be vindicated--I reported that Patel was involved in another lawsuit stemming from his role in an arrest of a mentally disabled man that ended with his partner shooting the handcuffed man. Oops. The city of Garden Grove settled that lawsuit back in July for $500,000.
The Weekly has now learned that the city has paid $475,000 to the Santos family, and will also reimburse them for all their legal fees stemming from both the criminal charges against them that were dropped and the lawsuit. The family's attorney, Jerry Steering, believes the city did the right thing. "In the end, after they came to realize their problem was Officer Patel, they believed what the plaintiffs were telling them," he says. "We didn't feel like waiting another five or ten years [for the case to go to trial], so it turned out just fine. They are happy and feel vindicated."
And what about Officer Patel?
He's no longer working with the department. Both Steering and Tom Beck, the plaintiff's attorney in the other case involving Patel, each told the Weekly they learned of this fact during settllement negotiations with the city. Just to make sure, I called the Garden Grove PD this morning and asked the operator to connect me to Patel. "Sorry, he doesn't work here anymore," she said.
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