BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In closed session Wednesday, the Bakersfield City Council will discuss settling at least one of two lawsuits filed against the city, both of which began during traffic stops by Bakersfield police.
While city council meetings are open to the public through the state's open meetings law, city councils do meet in private, most commonly to discuss personnel matters and lawsuits. They must publicly announce closed session actions.
The Bakersfield City Council meets at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday to take public statements, before going into closed session. Its regular meeting continues at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall council chambers, 1501 Truxtun Ave.
The first lawsuit which the council may settle was filed in district court in 2011 by Yetunda Wright, whose 15-year-old son Traveon John Avila was shot and killed by police officers during a traffic stop in central Bakersfield on July 9, 2010.
The car, which city attorneys say was stolen and had led police on a short nighttime pursuit, rolled backward toward officers as they got out of their car. Officers opened fire, striking Avila at least three times.
A second suspect ran away as officers stopped the car, and a third suspect was arrested.
In her lawsuit against the city and Bakersfield police officers Timothy Berchtold and Noah Landers, Wright alleges the officers stopped her son without a warrant or probable cause, that they used excessive force and didn't summon immediate medical care, and that the city knew it wasn't adequately training police to make traffic stops.
Fresno-based attorney Mick Marderosian, who represents the city in cases involving Bakersfield Police Department, said its officers undergo both post-academy and on-the-job training in making safe, effective traffic stops.
Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said a recent meeting between both sides was productive.
"That case went to mediation, and the city has been given a demand by plaintiff's counsel, and that's going to be the topic of discussion," Gennaro said Tuesday, adding she is "cautiously optimistic that it is going to settle tomorrow night."
Gennaro declined to discuss the amount of the demand submitted by Wright's lawyer, Daniel Rodriguez.
The second lawsuit the council will discuss was brought last year in Kern County Superior Court by Bakersfield resident Edward Colson, who was handcuffed and placed on his knees during a traffic stop Jan. 11, 2010 in southeast Bakersfield, because police officers believed he had a handgun in his car.
No gun was found. Colson, who was released at the scene, alleges assault and battery, that he was stopped without cause and that Bakersfield police injured his right shoulder -- to the point of requiring surgery to repair it -- by improperly attempting to help him stand with his hands cuffed behind him.
Marderosian pointed out that at the time of the incident, Colson was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing "close to 500 pounds," and that the injury occurred when officers were trying to help him to his feet.
A mandatory settlement conference in that case is scheduled for Nov. 15.
Rodriguez, who also represents Colson, declined to discuss either case.