State

Garcia family finds 'justice' in settlement over death in Patterson

Two days after a prolonged scuffle with three Patterson Police Services deputies, 39-year-old Ramiro Garcia died.

His family sought $10 million for his death in July 2006.

A jury awarded them $215,000, of which half goes to pay attorney's fees and court costs. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the settlement Oct. 27.

"Money was never an object for the family," said Lisa Ochoa, Garcia's sister."We wanted justice for my brother."

A federal jury said two of the deputies, Steven Watson and Timothy Schwartz, were liable for Garcia's death in a verdict Sept. 22, the family's lawyer said. A third defendant, Michael Fisher, was found to have used excessive force but was not held liable for damages.

"We had our day in court," Ochoa said. "We won. Our attorneys helped us prove what the deputies did was wrong."

About 2 a.m. on July 9, 2006, Garcia was at his friends' apartment on North First Street in Patterson when the three deputies responded to a 911 call there. A woman told authorities Garcia appeared to be under the influence and would not leave her apartment, according to court documents.

The deputies saw Garcia pacing in an empty parking spot in front of the apartment. According to authorities, Garcia jumped on the hood of a van before being forced to the ground.

The three deputies reported that Garcia continued to struggle with them, waving his arms and kicking. According to court documents, Watson punched Garcia in the left side of his head 10 to 15 times; Fisher also hit Garcia. Schwartz used a Taser on Garcia three times while the other two deputies wrestled with him, the documents said.

Once deputies had him under control, Garcia's breathing slowed and his pulse stopped, the court documents said. Garcia was given CPR but never regained consciousness. He died just days later.

Deputy singled out

The Garcia family's attorney, Ben Nisenbaum of Oakland, called Watson's conduct particularly troubling. A jury singled him out, awarding the family $15,000 in punitive damages against him.

"This case represents both a failure in the training of the deputies and truly malicious conduct by one deputy at the scene who lost his self-control," Nisenbaum said. "If that deputy had done his job ... Mr. Garcia would still be alive."

Sheriff Adam Christianson said an internal investigation showed no wrongdoing on the part of the deputies. All three are still employed in the department: two as patrol officers, one as a detective.

"Mr. Garcia chose to fight," Christianson said. "While his death is tragic, our deputy sheriffs acted appropriately and as they were trained to do. ... In my opinion, the blame rests with Mr. Garcia."

The coroner's office listed the cause of death as complications from a lack of oxygen to the brain, "probably due to acute methamphetamine toxicity."

Nisenbaum said Garcia was asphyxiated as Watson kneeled on Garcia's back while he was facedown and in handcuffs.

Christianson said Garcia's case is an example of the dangers of methamphetamine.

"Mr. Garcia had a toxic level of methamphetamine in his system," Christianson said. "The family called us because he was there making threats against them."

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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