Briefs: Federal jury awards $2 million to Fillmore man Ventura County Star (California) September 16, 2003

Copyright 2003 Ventura County Star
Ventura County Star (California)

September 16, 2003 Tuesday

Federal jury awards $2 million to Fillmore man

A federal jury Monday awarded more than $2 million in damages to a Fillmore man who was shot by a Ventura County sheriff's deputy at a wedding reception.

After one day of deliberation, the five-man, two-woman jury decided Tony Morales, 54, should receive $2,073,000 in compensatory damages for the medical bills, chronic pain, lost wages and other hardships he incurred after the 2000 shooting. The panel hung on punitive damages, and the judge declared a mistrial on that portion of the damages phase.

Alan Wisotsky, the attorney representing the county, could not be reached for comment late Monday. John Burton, who represented Morales along with attorney Peter Williamson, praised the jury's decision.

"This is a big award -- there are very few seven-figure awards coming out of this federal courthouse in police misconduct cases and this was a nonfatal shooting," Burton said.

In August, the same jury found that Deputy Tonya Herbst, 31, intended to shoot Morales, acted negligently and violated his civil rights. The Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office ruled the shooting was justified in May 2001.

Herbst was a rookie on duty the night of May 20, 2000, when Morales' son, Chad, became drunk and combative during a wedding reception in Fillmore. Chad left and later returned armed with a handgun.

Deputies were called to the scene and Morales told them he had everything under control. Herbst, however, said she feared for her safety and fired her gun at Chad Morales. She missed, and the bullet hit the elder Morales in the upper torso.