Court Round Up

Louisiana: Federal civil rights suit against police settled for $300K

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The East Baton Rouge Metro Council has voted to pay $300,000 to settle a federal civil rights suit filed by a Baton Rouge man seriously injured by police in a 2006 arrest.

The Parish Attorney’s Office had recommended paying that sum to Abraham Barousalian, plus $31,784 in medical expenses, to settle the lawsuit.

Barousalian was arrested following a routine traffic stop June 3, 2006, after an officer saw an open bottle of tequila inside the car in which he was a passenger.

He was taken into custody for interfering with an officer and later booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on obstruction of justice and other charges, including a drug offense still pending in court.

Barousalian said in his lawsuit he was physically abused by officers, suffered “massive blood loss” and had to undergo “emergency surgery in order to prevent imminent death.”

The altercation took place while Barousalian was in custody at the First District police precinct and was awaiting transfer to parish prison, according to the lawsuit.

The decision to pay the settlement a decision made without objection came after only brief discussion at Wednesday’s council meeting.

In response to questions from Councilman Ulysses Addison, the police department’s attorney, Kim Brooks, said no officers were disciplined over the incident.

Addison said there was “something wrong with this picture” if more than $300,000 in taxpayer dollars are being paid to settle an excessive force complaint.

“If it’s the policy of this department that we beat the hell out of people and pay lawsuits, then we need to be revising the policy,” Addison said.

In a March 12 e-mail response to questions about the incident, police department spokesman Sgt. Don Kelly said Barousalian was inadvertently injured during a struggle with two police officers, Cpl. Eugene Raffety and Officer John Thomas.

Barousalian’s attorney, Chris Alexander, said in an interview before the council meeting that his client did not pose a physical threat to anyone while in police custody.

Alexander noted that Barousalian is 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 130 pounds and was either handcuffed or leg shackled or in a holding cell at all times after his arrest.

Colorado: DA won’t seek death penalty in Vail bar shooting

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) — Prosecutors won’t seek the death penalty for a man accused in shootings that killed a man and injured three others at a bar in Vail.

Sixty-three-year-old Richard “Rossi” Moreau is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 70-year-old Carbondale doctor Gary Bruce Kitching on Nov. 7.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said he consulted with Kitching’s wife before deciding against seeking the death penalty.

According to police reports, Moreau has said the shooting was related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Military records show he served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

Hurlbert argued in a court filing Monday that the issue is irrelevant to the shooting and that evidence relating to PTSD should be inadmissible.

Pennsylvania: Doctor surrenders license during fondling case

BRIDGEWATER, Pa. (AP) — A western Pennsylvania physician has voluntarily surrendered his medical license while he defends against charges that he fondled, kissed or groped nine female patients during examinations since 2007.

Fifty-six-year-old Dr. Robert Knapp, an endocrinologist from Bridgewater, is awaiting trial in Beaver County Common Pleas Court.

Knapp’s lawyer, Bernard Rabik, said Wednesday that Knapp “courageously” surrendered the license because he’s spending much of his time on his criminal defense. Knapp no longer works at his practice, but is having other doctors fill in.

Rabik has suggested the women are lying and cited a pending civil case as a motive. Bridgewater police say more than 30 women have accused Knapp of inappropriate behavior, but some of the claims are too old to prosecute.

Louisiana: Teachers’ suits over drug tests ruled OK by judge

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to dismiss lawsuits by two Baton Rouge teachers against the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board over drug-and-alcohol tests they say they were required to undergo after they suffered on-the-job injuries.

School board members agreed last year to end mandatory testing of injured teachers who were not suspected of substance abuse.

That agreement ended a civil rights lawsuit filed over the issue by the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers.

The School board has opposed damage claims by teachers subjected to testing prior to the settlement.

Board attorneys had asked U.S. District Judge James J. Brady to summarily dismiss the claims of teachers Peggy Reno and Rosemarie Patterson.

Brady rejected the board’s request late Tuesday, meaning the teachers can continue to pursue claims their civil rights were violated by the former policy.

“These are great wins for us,” said Yigal Bander, attorney for Reno and Patterson.

Patterson was teaching at Westminster Elementary School in 2008, when she was attacked on three occasions by the same student, she said in her suit against the board.

She was required to undergo drug and alcohol tests although she was not suspected of substance abuse, her suit alleged.

Bander said those tests were negative, but added the student’s attacks left Patterson with a painful cervical spine injury and recurring headaches.

Reno said in her suit she suffered only a minor injury to her shoulder when she broke up a fight between two students at Mohican Education Center in 2008.

She added she was required to submit to drug and alcohol testing not warranted by her teaching record. Reno said she passed those tests.

She said several teachers have told her in recent months they appreciated her part in ending mandatory drug tests that are not prompted by suspicion of substance abuse.

“The teachers know what’s going on,” Reno added. “That makes me feel good. That means a lot to me.”

North Carolina: High-living pair of pastors freed until tax trials begin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Husband-and-wife pastors have been ordered to live apart until their trial next month on charges they dodged paying taxes they owed on millions of dollars in income their church paid them.

Anthony and Harriet Jinwright are charged with tax evasion, conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and filing false tax returns. They are accused in an indictment of not reporting $1.8 million in taxable income.

Both Jinwrights have pleaded not guilty and have been free on bond since their indictments in 2009. Their trial is scheduled to begin April 6.

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney decided Wednesday to allow the Jinwrights to remain free on bond. But he said there is probable cause that the pastors are conspiring not to pay their overdue taxes and ordered them not to live together so their communication would be limited, The Charlotte Observer reported.

“The government has shown they are involved in a conspiracy,” Whitney said. “I’m going to have to separate them.”

But the Jinwrights’ are not a flight risk or a danger to the community, so revoking their bonds would be inappropriate, Whitney said. He said the couple could to continue to work together at Greater Salem City of God in Charlotte and to meet together with lawyers for trial preparation.

Prosecutors had argued the Jinwrights should be jailed because they were violating their bond by not paying $85,000 in back taxes for 2007 and 2008. The Jinwrights reported total wages of a little more than $465,000 on their 2007 joint tax return, prosecutors said, excluding a housing allowance of about $161,000 and a car allowance of nearly $46,000.

The Jinwrights spent lavishly and received more than $5.3 million from the church from 2001 through 2007, prosecutors said.

“Defendants’ contention that they lack the ability to pay their outstanding tax liability of $85,000, given their substantial income, is incredible,” prosecutors David Brown and Craig Randall argued in a court document.

The indictment alleges that since 2001 the Jinwrights have leased 18 vehicles, including a Bentley GT worth about $175,000 and a Rolls-Royce Phantom worth $352,500. The pastors have bought a $990,000 house on Lake Norman and leased a $3.7 million house, according to prosecutors.

Defense lawyers said the pastors don’t have the money.

“If you put them in jail, they are for sure not going to be able to pay their taxes,” said Ed Hinson, Anthony Jinwright’s lawyer.