Jury considers suit by man hit with Taser; Officer shocked him at union picket

The San Diego Union-Tribune April 16, 2005

Copyright 2005 The San Diego Union-Tribune
The San Diego Union-Tribune

April 16, 2005 Saturday


A union official whom a Chula Vista police officer shocked with a stun gun during a picket-line confrontation three years ago is asking a jury to award him up to $280,000 for pain and suffering.

Tracy Wert, 38, of Temecula, was with a group of union members on strike outside a Raytheon Technical Services Co. plant July 24, 2002, lawyers told jurors yesterday in San Diego federal court.

Security guards hired by Raytheon patrolled the parking lot during the picketing while Chula Vista police watched from across the street.

When a member of the Electronic and Space Technicians Union tried to drive onto the plant's parking lot that morning, one of the pickets hit her windshield with a sign, according to testimony.

Lawyers for Wert and the city disagree on what happened next, though it was recorded by three video cameras -- one on a police cruiser and others operated by an plainclothes police officer and a union member.

Wert's lawyer, John Burton, told jurors the tapes clearly show security guards bursting through the picket line and attacking the picket who hit the windshield with his sign.

The tapes, he said, show Wert trying to break up the fight between the picket and one of the guards.

The city's lawyer, Robert W. Brockman Jr., told jurors the tapes show Wert assaulting the security guard.

"This man is not separating these two people," he said. "He is clearly entering into the mix."

The two lawyers agree that the security guard struck Wert three times with a billy club.

They also agree that Chula Vista officer Daniel Peak fired the Taser gun, which sent electric darts into Wert's leg and abdomen before shocking him with 50,000 volts for five seconds, knocking him to the ground.

Off Duty Officers Inc., the company that provided the guards, settled the suit with Wert and three other union members for $70,000 last year but did not admit doing anything wrong.

Wert's suit against the city was tried before U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones. Jurors are scheduled to resume deliberations Monday.

Burton told jurors there is a long history of violence against union workers across the country and it's important for police officers such as Peak to be neutral and not side with the guards hired by employers.

Brockman said Peak did his job well. Wert, he said, is to blame.

"It's time for somebody to accept responsibility for this incident," he said. "And the person who needs to accept responsibility is Mr. Wert.