CALIFORNIA; Coach Awarded $4 Million in Defamation Case; Named as a molestation suspect but never charged, instructor sued San Marino officials. Los Angeles Times January 21, 2005 Friday

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Los Angeles Times

January 21, 2005 Friday
BYLINE: Monte Morin, Times Staff Writer

A San Marino High School basketball coach who was publicly identified as a sexual molestation suspect by police but never charged with a crime was awarded $4.45 million in compensatory damages by a Los Angeles County jury Thursday.

Patrick Gillan had sued the city of San Marino, the Police Department, its chief and two officers, alleging that they violated his civil rights, defamed him and intentionally exposed him to emotional distress by accusing him of physically assaulting a former student and team member who was then 17.

Although the district attorney's office announced that it could not corroborate the alleged victim's story and would not file charges, San Marino officers told newspapers and television stations that their suspicions were well-founded and that other victims might surface, the lawsuit said. Police also distributed mug shots of Gillan, which were broadcast on television.

"Mr. Gillan is very happy and he feels vindicated," said the plaintiff's lawyer, John Burton. In court papers, Gillan charged that the former player fabricated the story with her mother in late 2001 because they were angry the student hadn't obtained an athletic scholarship or succeeded in college basketball. Their intent, court papers said, was to hurt the coach.

In addition to the compensatory award, former San Marino Police Sgt. Eugene Street was ordered to pay punitive damages of $9,870 and now-retired Lt. Christopher Petersen was ordered to pay $7,560.

"I'm shocked and disappointed, as are my clients," said Scott Grossberg, attorney for the defendants. "We're going to review our options."