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A minor lost a testicle and another man wrongfully died in custody because of the Anaheim Police Department, according to two legal claims filed against the city in recent years and made public by officials last month.
City Council members looked at both claims in closed session before their public meeting on Jan. 26, and took no action to settle or fight either of them. The claims were filed in the last two years and were posted online by officials for the council meeting.
The city has spent at least $20 million over roughly the last decade to settle these types of claims and lawsuits among others against the department, according to official data obtained by Voice of OC.
One claim discussed in the recent closed session dealt with the department’s use of a police canine on a minor, resulting in the loss of one of the child’s testicles, according to the claim filed in October by the child’s father.
The incident occurred in April 2020, after the child experienced a “psychotic episode” and “barricaded” himself in his room, according to the claim.
Police responding to the incident fired rubber bullets and set a police canine upon the minor, according to the claim, resulting in “multiple police dog bites to his right arm and back” and “trauma resulting in surgical removal of his left testicle, bruising and scarring.”
The claim alleges Anaheim police were negligent and failed to use “reasonable” force, and seeks at least $10,000 in damages, claiming the child has “suffered severe personal injuries and has incurred medical, hospital and other related expenses.”
The other claim deals with an alleged wrongful death of Alejandro Alvarez Guzman while in police custody in March 2019. The claim is sparse on details, but was filed by Guzman’s wife, Guadalupe Silva, and his mother, Isabel Guzman Maldonado.
The attorney listed as representing Silva and Maldonado in their claim against the city, Sylvia Gonzalez, declined to comment when asked for more details late last month.
Anaheim city spokesman Mike Lyster declined to comment on the claims when reached by Voice of OC, citing the confidential nature of the city’s discussions on legal issues during closed sessions.
Such closed sessions to discuss anticipated or ongoing legal fights and real estate negotiations, among other things, are routine for municipal government agencies.
Last month, Anaheim officials also met to discuss their outstanding legal issues around the 2018 police shooting of Kenneth John Yamashita-Magarro, who was left paralyzed following a police chase.
Anaheim police officers that year were conducting surveillance on a man wanted for possible probation violations. They ended up pursuing Yamashita-Magarro out of confusion and ultimately shot him eight times, according to a letter from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office clearing the officers in the shooting.
Yamashita-Magarro survived but was paralyzed from the waist down.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office later cleared the police department employees involved, detectives Paul Delgado and Peter Picone, of any criminal wrongdoing.
Following the incident, Yamashita-Magarro pleaded guilty to charges related to the police pursuit and was sentenced to a year in jail and five months of probation.
“It is reasonable to conclude that Detectives Delgado and Picone were justified in believing that Yamashita-Magarro posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to himself and others,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Erin Rowe wrote in the DA’s Office decision.
The Anaheim police claims made public on Jan. 26 come as city data, obtained by Voice of OC through a California Public Records Act request, shows Anaheim spent at least $20 million since 2010 on settling and fighting lawsuits and legal claims by the public against the police department.
Click here to view the data breakdown, provided by the city through its response to Voice of OC’s public records request.
The claims can range in category, according to the data, from “excessive force/brutality” and “false arrest,” to “dog bites” and “lost or damaged property.”
For instance, a line item for settlement spending between the years 2015 and 2016 shows the city spent $1.5 million on police department legal issues pertaining to “excessive force/brutality.”
The city data also details police settlement spending in categories such as “lost or damaged property,” “vehicle vs. pedestrian,” “errors and omissions,” “false reports,” and even “tree trimming.”
Nearby Santa Ana has spent at least $24 million over roughly that same time frame over the same types of police department legal issues.
Much larger U.S. towns like New York City are known to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in a single year to settle cases of the same nature.
The priority of law enforcement when it comes to local government spending continues to be an increasingly hot topic among activists and civil rights groups.
The debate amped up last summer when the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd sparked months of protests and unrest across the U.S. and in Orange County.
The protests struck a special chord for many in Anaheim, where almost a decade ago the back-to-back police shootings of Latinos in the city ignited unrest that prompted the town to create a police review board.
The effectiveness of that oversight body, which morphed over the years, has remained a topic of debate.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.