The City of Beverly Hills has settled yet another case against its former Chief of Police, Sandra Spagnoli, in which a freelance journalist claimed the Chief drove over his foot when he approached her for an interview. The suit accused Spagnoli of assault and battery and accused both the city and Spagnoli of negligence and violating the journalist’s First Amendment rights.
The settlement came out to $17,500, according to City Spokesperson Keith Sterling–a sum low enough not to require City Council approval. The city has paid over $8 million in judgments and settlements in cases alleging various forms of discrimination by the former chief, who resigned in April 2020.
“The city recognized that they had a case with Spagnoli again that they just needed to put to rest,” said attorney Michael Carrillo, who represented plaintiff Jacob Rogers. “They came to mediation in good faith and they allowed my client now to move forward with his life without this hanging over his head.”
The city expressed similar sentiment at the case’s conclusion–with one caveat. “We are pleased that this case is behind us, however the city continues to dispute the allegations in the complaint,” City Attorney Laurence Wiener told the Courier.
On April 16, 2019, Rogers approached Spagnoli to ask for comment on statements made by Officer Lawrence Ryan, who had described Rogers’ assistant to a news outlet as “a child molester and a rapist,” according to Carrillo.
According to a complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Spagnoli “abruptly walked away from the interview” and got into her car, telling Rogers that that she would “be happy to sit down” later. Then, Spagnoli drove over Rogers’ foot “either intentionally or negligently.”
The city responded to the suit by labeling the claims as “factually deficient.” The city argued in a demurrer that the suit did “not contain sufficient facts to support claims of assault and battery against a police officer.”
“Plaintiff does not allege that Chief Spagnoli attempted to force Plaintiff to submit to her authority, that she attempted to stop, detain or arrest Plaintiff, or that she was attempting to search Plaintiff,” the city alleged. “Indeed, the facts show that after speaking with Plaintiff, Chief Spagnoli was simply herself trying to leave Plaintiffs presence.”
Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Elaine W. Mandel ordered the two parties to enter into mediation. “It’s kind of common in these cases,” said Carrillo. “The judge sees through the forest and says, come on, this thing needs to settle.”
Carrillo also sees the settlement as an indication of shifting public opinion toward law enforcement. “It speaks to what’s going on in the world now, especially in this country, that the city of Beverly Hills agreed to pay an amount to my client,” he said, referencing numerous reports of police violence against journalists following the killing of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor. “The community, the potential jurors, are getting swayed by that information.”