The City of Santa Barbara recently officially rejected the claim for damages filed against the police department that argued six individuals had been slandered by the chief, which leaves six months for them to file a lawsuit in state court. In January, Los Angeles-based attorney James Segall-Gutierrez filed the $1 million per client claim, which argued that the police department “falsely and negligently” identified his six clients as gang members at a press conference dubbed Operation Falling Dawn last November. Meanwhile, the six continue to make their way through court — with mixed outcomes.
One claimant had her infraction case for possession of marijuana dismissed by a judge in traffic court. Though her name has been cleared, she has two sons awaiting trial for separate attempted murder cases with gang enhancements. Two other claimants have entered not guilty pleas and another claimant does not yet to have a case filed by the district attorney’s office; it is still being examined by a reviewing deputy. The final two claimants recently pled no contest — one admitted to a gang allegation and the other did not — and will serve time in custody and three years on felony probation.
Despite the two no contest pleas, Gutierrez maintains all of his clients are not active gang members. “I know for a fact that they are offering people lower sentences if they accept gang affiliation,” he said. “These are people who I know are not active gang members…If they are pleading out to misdemeanor crimes, that’s another issue.”
Though he said he couldn’t comment directly on the matter, Assistant District Attorney Hilary Dozer said, “If a defense lawyer feels that a charge is inappropriate, then he should assert their right to trial on that issue. To the extent that a person admits any significant legal enhancement, I have to assume a competent lawyer would do that based on his or her sound legal advice.”
Gutierrez plans to move forward with the lawsuit with the addition of four more individuals. Four of the 68 individuals are named in the gang injunction. Gutierrez is the same lawyer who filed the wrongful death claim on behalf of the 18-year-old daughter of Brian Tacadena; the city also denied that claim.