Standing in public on Dec. 15, 2012, an unarmed Ignacio Leon, Jr. wasn't wanted for committing any crime and says he complied when an approaching Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) officer issued commands, including for him to raise his hands, but the cop still unnecessarily fired three bullets, two striking his chest and torso.
Leon filed a federal lawsuit in 2014, alleging that SAPD officer David Garcia violated his constitutional rights by instituting a wrongful detention, using excessive--potentially lethal--force, postponing medical treatment for serious wounds, kicking the injured man and then writing a false report to justify the misconduct.
The Costa Mesa man's lawyers accused SAPD of failing to properly train or discipline rogue cops and Garcia of "acting with deliberate indifference and with the specific intent to harm Leon by delaying his need for medical care."
But this month inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton closed the case after a late September jury verdict for SAPD and Garcia.
Having lost, Leon is now responsible to pay the legal bills for Steven J. Rothans and Jill Williams, the city's privately-retained, Los Angeles-based lawyers, according to Staton's Oct. 5 order.
Rothans and Williams argued that Garcia and Daniel Alcala, his partner, responded to an "unknown trouble" call near midnight on the 500 block of East Washington Boulevard and reasonably assumed "criminal activity was afoot" when they saw Leon moving in the opposite direction. "When Leon ran, he caused a delay in the performance of the officers' duties to investigate the call," they told Staton. "Therefore, because officer Garcia personally perceived these events, he had probable cause to [make an arrest]" of the suspect.
The lawyers also concluded that Garcia's "conduct was objectively reasonable" because the suspect allegedly threatened to kill him and the cop became in fear for his life.
After shooting Leon, the SAPD officers tried to press charges against him, but prosecutors studied the case and rejected the demand.
Rothans and Williams, who believe Garcia should enjoy immunity for his official actions, said the absence of a successful criminal case is "irrelevant to the issues at hand" in the lawsuit.
Besides, they argued Leon had body tattoos, affiliated years ago with the Walnut Street criminal street gang, smoked marijuana on the day of the incident and, after being shot, saw hallucinations of his dead grandmother, evidence the police insisted proved his memory of events can't be trusted.
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Police practices and use of force expert, Richard Lichten, a retired, 30-year law enforcement official at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, opined in the case that Garcia had "no need" to "point his gun at Leon" during the minor encounter.
Staton will determine the size of Leon's payment to SAPD's lawyers on a future date.