By Corey Arvin
A Long Beach jury has awarded $8 million to the family of Daren Dwaine Burley, a 29-year-old father who died several days after an altercation with two Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies in August 2012.
On Dec. 31, a jury consisting of eight women and four men found the county liable for the injuries that contributed to his death. The award for damages will be disbursed to Burley’s wife and his five children.
The incident began after deputies responded to a call about a pregnant woman being choked by Burley in Compton. According to sheriff’s officials, Burley refused to follow the officers’ instructions and resisted arrest.
Court records showed that during the altercation, deputies punched the victim and applied a stun gun before he was subdued and handcuffed. Attorneys for the victim’s family argued that the deputies involved choked Burley as well – an accusation Sheriff’s Department denied.
The jury’s verdict comes on the heels of national protests and controversy surrounding police brutality allegations, as well as the no- indictment decisions involving police officers accused of killing Mike Brown, 19, in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner, 43, killed in Staten Island, NY. Both cases were highlighted incidents involving police and became the focus of the #BlackLivesMatter movement throughout the U.S. late last year.
Olu K. Orange, an attorney representing one the victim’s family members, said the Burley case was a civil rights violation because of “excessive force” used by the deputies involved.
“The officers used unreasonable, unjustified, excessive force … and they killed him. Anytime a government official exceeds the authority and the power given to that official as used against a citizen, it’s a civil rights violation,” said Orange.
Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to charge deputies David Aviles and Paul Baserra.
Sheriff’s officials released a statement last month that said, in part, “While the jury determined that Mr. Burley was 40 percent negligent in the incident that resulted in his death, the Sheriff’s Department strongly believes that Mr. Burley was 100 percent the cause of his own demise.”
“Deputies were called to the scene because Mr. Burley was choking a pregnant woman. He was under the influence of both PCP and cocaine. He did not follow the deputies’ instructions, but instead began to chase the victim, forcing the deputies to intervene in order to protect her,” the statement continued.
Orange said the jury trusted the testimonies given by witnesses called upon in the trial, not the deputies.
“Speaking with the jurors after the trial, some of them went so far as to say that although they walked into the trial trusting police officers in general, they walked out of that trial angry and afraid. … Afraid of the fact that people are given so much power, could be so untrustworthy and dishonest. More of a fear of what it portends for society,” said Orange.