Samoans demand £13m from LA police
Next week 38 people, almost all Samoans, will ask a California state court to order the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department - a police force with a reputation for racism and brutality - to pay $20m (£13.3m) in damages for a long list of alleged offences, including assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
The suit, one of the largest in the city's history, stems from an incident in 1989 when the Samoans were holding an evening engagement party in Cerritos, a tranquil neighbourhood 15 miles south-east of central Los Angeles.
Details remain in dispute, but there is no doubt police received at least one complaint about noise. What is far less clear is why 100 officers in riot gear and wielding metal torches and night-sticks stormed into the house while a police helicopter whirred overhead.
According to Garo Mardirossian, one of the Samoans' lawyers, the raid left one man with brain injuries, several with broken bones, and dozens with cuts and bruises - including the party's celebrity guest, a professional women's wrestler called Emily "Mount Fiji" Dole, the star of a US television show called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. She was so traumatised that she has been unable to perform again, he said.
He believes the attack on the guests, two thirds of whom were women, was motivated by racism. "The Samoans look very like blacks or Hispanics," said Mr Mardirossian. "So that may have been a factor. The police were heard shouting `fat pigs' and `dirty Samoans'."
During the raid, police arrested 34 of the guests, and went on to press assault charges against seven of them. However, all the cases ended in acquittal, or were dismissed after the case collapsed when the Samoans' neighbours repeatedly contradicted officers' claims that the party was out of hand and guests had refused to disperse.
Moreover, there was a videotape, shot by an onlooker, which Mr Mardirossian says clearly showed "civilians pleading with deputies who, in turn, grabbed, pushed and beat guests inside and outside the house.
"The deputies felt their authority had been challenged," said the plaintiffs' "statement of fact" to the court. "They launched into a frenzy of violence and brutality to show plaintiffs that they were not to be questioned, even while they were wrong."
Complaints about the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department are far from exceptional. In 1992, after the city's riots, an official inquiry into the force by James Kolts, a retired judge, found "deeply disturbing evidence of excessive force and lax discipline" and identified 62 "rogue" officers responsible for nearly 500 use-of-force or harassment incidents.
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