Federal judge: Fairfield should pay attorneys for In-N-Out case

By From page A1 | April 04, 2014

FAIRFIELD — The city should appeal a federal court judge’s decision that Fairfield pay $316,750 in fees and costs to attorneys representing three customers police arrested at the In-N-Out on Holiday Lane, Councilwoman Catherine Moy says.

“It’s just excessive,” she said. “We have better use of that money.”

Moy said she’ll urge the council to join her in challenging the order Monday by U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd, who presided at the 2013 civil trial in Sacramento over the July 4, 2009, incident when four college students arrived at the In-N-Out just before 1 a.m.

Three of the four people filed a suit contending false arrest and interference with constitutional rights. A jury in 2013 found the arrests for trespassing were without probable cause but did not involve malice or reckless disregard for the trio’s rights. The federal jury awarded the plaintiffs $12,150.

Oakland attorney Garret Murai, who with another attorney represented the students, said Thursday that the three felt an injustice was done and that they were racially profiled because they’re African-American.

Jude Drozd wrote that it was undisputed that the three were not part of a disturbance that the In-N-Out manager reported to police involving young black males and females, Judge Drozd wrote.

A police dispatcher had reported patrons throwing food and refusing to leave. The restaurant manager mistakenly told the arriving officers that the college students were involved in the disturbance, Murai said.

“It doesn’t matter what the manager says, the police have a duty to establish probable cause,” the attorney said of the arrests that followed.

The students exited the In-N-Out at the instruction of officers and were arrested after they didn’t leave the parking lot, according to court records. They were handcuffed, put into a police van and photographed. The students were released from the county jail at 10 a.m. that morning and faced charges of criminal trespass that were later dismissed.

Murai said the students, who have since completed college, sought justice rather than money in the matter.

In-N-Out, in a separate settlement, paid $180,000.

“The city fought us,” Murai said, “for the past four years.”

Fairfield had offered plaintiffs $15,000 two years before the 2013 jury trial, according to court records.

Gale Spears, spokeswoman for the city of Fairfield, said representatives of the city manager’s office were not available for comment Thursday.

“We only know what’s in the ruling,” Spears said of the federal court judge’s decision.

Councilwoman Moy said the city manager’s office sent an email Wednesday advising that The Sacramento Bee, which reported the judge’s award to attorneys, was inquiring about the case.

Moy said the Fairfield Police Department does not racially profile people.

“We have great police officers,” she said. “They thought they were doing the right thing.”

“I don’t think it had to do with race,” Moy added of the case. “It was just a misidentification by the manager.”

Councilman John Mraz said he’s surprised by the amount the federal judge granted attorneys.

“That’s incredible,” he said. “I’m not happy.”

“Anytime we have to pay out any amount of money,” Mraz said, “it’s not a good thing for the city.”

“We’re using the people’s money,” he said.

Councilwoman Pam Bertani said the city must determine if the appeal can succeed.

“We have to review the record,” she said. “Our next step is to do just that.”

Attorney Murai said the federal judge, along with granting fees, ruled Monday against Fairfield’s request for a new trial in the case.

“Finally, our clients have been vindicated,” the attorney said.

Surveillance cameras at the restaurant and a cellphone video taken by another customer were shown at the trial, Murai said. The video showed several young black men and women leaving just as police arrived.

Judge Drozd said the tape depicts a busy dining room but no evidence of a disturbance.

Murai said the video record supports his clients and avoids the uncertainty surrounding many law enforcement-related lawsuits.

“A lot of these police cases rely on a he-said, she-said scenario,” he said.

Two of his clients in the In-N-Out case grew up in Fairfield, Murai said, but to this day are uncomfortable around police.

“And that’s really sad to hear that coming from young people of any color,” the attorney said.

For a lot of people their age, Murai said, the civil rights movement is something that they hear about in history. But despite the great strides America has made on racial matters, he said, problems involving race are not all in our past.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case even today,” Murai said.

The attorney said Judge Drozd’s decision grants about half of the $692,870 sought by lawyers for fees and costs representing plaintiffs in the case.

Murai said he would not be surprised if Fairfield appealed the judge’s decision but doubts the city would prevail.

“They’re going to have a hard time,” he said. “It is very difficult to overturn a judge’s order.”

Drozd in his decision said when applying standards for fees, he is aware of guidance from the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. 

“Lawyers must eat, so they generally won’t take cases without a reasonable prospect of getting paid,” the circuit court has said.

Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or [email protected]

Ryan McCarthy


Discussion | 25 comments

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  • Rich GiddensApril 03, 2014 - 7:37 pm

    What a terrible thing to happen to those black kids. Fairfield will pay because their cops are stupid.

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  • Skeptic ScroogeApril 04, 2014 - 6:21 am

    Yeah, ffpd doesnt racially profile ~ they are just as cruel no matter how white you are!

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  • See the VideoApril 04, 2014 - 6:53 am

    Who didn't see this coming? Guess Moy et al didn't see the video. "Did not involve malice or reckless disregard for the trio’s rights"?! Guess the Judge didn't see the girl get swung around & slammed into a car by one of Fairfield’s finest. Like I said back then, break out the checkbook Fairfield.

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  • DlApril 04, 2014 - 9:37 am

    The video is on youtube and has been for years. Type in Fairfield PD police brutality.

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  • JazzAzzApril 04, 2014 - 7:02 am

    Let's see a, "The federal jury awarded the plaintiffs $12,150" award, and In N Out agreed to $180,00, yet the attorney's were awarded fees and costs well in excess of that. Goes to show how attorneys are at the bottom of the SCUM pile!!!!!!! If I were in charge, I'd flip these attorneys off, and let it go to collections and the cities credit rating, like so many dead beats do!!!!!

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  • StreetwiseApril 04, 2014 - 8:26 am

    Guess the city should have offered them $60k each instead of going to court. Hope this comes out of PD's budget (as if, HaHaHaHa) & they get a new city attorney. Maybe the DR should find out how much he charged the city for this.

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  • CD BrooksApril 04, 2014 - 7:03 am

    Pay the money and stop whining about it. You can't mangle people's civil rights and try to justify it. Pay up and move on.

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  • GemmaApril 04, 2014 - 9:12 am

    I agree. Not only do they not want to pay for the mistake, they want to try and get us on their side by saying "It's the people's money." It's the people's money being wasted on criminals released through the DA's office, or blood money paid to the gf of the monster who killed Matt Garcia, and they didn't care about the people then! It's not about the people.

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  • just a thoughtApril 04, 2014 - 1:08 pm

    The only rights that were mangled here were the rights of people to eat a meal without being harassed. The jury in this case found that the girls rights were not disregarded.

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  • Mr.RApril 04, 2014 - 8:00 am

    The Sac Bee reported on this before the Daily Republic?.Good job Republic

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  • JazzAzzApril 04, 2014 - 8:02 am

    Daily Republic, over priced, and good for fish wrap, or to be used at the bottom of your bird cage. I wish they just offered an ONLINE subscription only (Lower fee)!!!

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  • Fairfield homeowner and Tax payerApril 04, 2014 - 8:22 am

    Thanks fairfield pd for your great service... NOT!! I don't think mraz with u guys right now, try treating people like humans and not scum!

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  • JazzAzzApril 04, 2014 - 8:24 am

    Some people need to be (Deserve it by their actions) treated like scum, NO MATTER their ethnicity. Unfortunately in this case the PD was mistaken.

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  • MattApril 04, 2014 - 8:32 am

    Is anyone else really craving a burger?

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  • CD BrooksApril 04, 2014 - 8:41 am

    Matt, a double-double does sound really good this morning! :)

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • S KApril 04, 2014 - 8:45 am

    A 4 X 4 even better. Try to get one no more than once per month :-)

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  • kandiApril 04, 2014 - 8:41 am

    yes the Fairfield police department does racial profile. That's what they get, it's about time.

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  • TylerApril 04, 2014 - 12:26 pm

    Are there any ethnic differences in who is doing crimes?

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  • enuf is enufApril 04, 2014 - 10:00 am

    I encourage everyone to view the video on youtube. I think the city should be glad they only have to pay what they were ordered to pay. The cops clearly use excessive force on these kids

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  • just a thoughtApril 04, 2014 - 10:29 am

    To everyone on here that keeps saying you should watch the video on youtube i would like to say one thing. While the video does show the officer clearly get physical with one of the girls involved keep in mind that the video does not follow what happened start to finish. I do not care what their ages were, what sex they are, what color they are, or whether or not they were innocent, when police tell you something you need to comply. The ffpd (who i rarely go to bat for) were wrongly told these were the kids causing trouble. They clearly gave the police officers trouble and we see the end result. Had they simply remained calm and let the police do a little investigating then this would not have happened. On the flip side of things, if they would have said "it wasnt us" and the pd just said okay and walked away you guys would all be slamming the pd on not doing their jobs. You cant have it both ways.

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  • DLApril 04, 2014 - 12:11 pm

    But then they would have not got the 12k. You really think they would of left them alone? Ignorance is a bliss

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  • TylerApril 04, 2014 - 3:02 pm

    I encourage everyone to read Chip Johnson's column on sfgate titled "Oakland crime issue goes far deeper than racial profiling." No one will speak the words in FF but they apply here as well. I moved to FF over thirty years ago, back when Mission Village was an attractive shopping complex and before the first nearby apartments were built. I left FF in 2001 because of rising crime and a general decline in courtesy and quality of life. I have always been thankful that I got out when I did, before the real estate market cratered and left previously modest but safe neighborhoods pocked with section 8 rentals. Foreclosures were snapped up by wily investors - who rarely live in the affected neighborhoods - and rented to anyone with a voucher. The worse the neighborhood, the more section 8. It's unfortunate but it's true.

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  • Hmm....April 04, 2014 - 4:24 pm

    I think it's an embarrassment to our community with how fast people jump in with the race card. I don't think this had anything to do with the color of the person. About two weeks ago I was in a Fairfield restaurant and watched as FPD officers arrested a white woman. All of us were happy to see her go. I did not think for one second the police targeted her because of her race... Why is race such a quick button to push?

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  • just a thoughtApril 04, 2014 - 4:52 pm

    Hmm, its a quick button to push because the youth are living in a "uh uhh you aint fittin ta disrespect me" world and feel no need to be civil at all. If you chose to call out their behavior the obvious defense is of course going to be that you are racially profiling them.

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  • DavidApril 04, 2014 - 5:53 pm

    There are very many colored people out there but there are even more that give the good ones a bad name. When I am driving down the road and someone crosses the street in many different occasions. One color will put there hand up and say thanks crossing faster than walking speed. Another color will stare you down and walk even slower thinking that they are better than everyone else. You are a person that wants to be color this and color that, but in reality you know its true. I have friends of all colors and even my colored friends admit this.

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