Sheriff's Sergeant Brian Moriguchi poses Tuesday, November 30 1999 with a photograph of a racist caricature scrawled in his office in 1996. The photo served as evidence in a trial Moriguchi won against the County of Los Angeles in August 1999.


Sergeant Battles Racism in Sheriff's Department

Sgt. Brian Moriguchi alleged harassment against the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, stemming from a 1996 racial affront. After three years of failed suppression by superiors and near-exile to Lancaster, Moriguchi's supervisors are censured unanimously by judge and jury. An appeal is pending.


By JOHN LEE

RAFU SHIMPO STAFF WRITER

  LOS ANGELES.—A Superior Court judge has ordered two Sheriff's Department supervisors to pay more than $60,000 in punitive damages and monetary relief to a Japanese American sergeant who was persecuted upon complaining of a racist caricature that was displayed in his office for days.

Sgt. Brian Moriguchi, a 14-year veteran of the force, announced the recent court decision at a press conference Tuesday outside the County Board of Supervisors hearing room. He was joined by his two attorneys and members of several legal and law enforcement advocacy groups.

A jury in the case Moriguchi v. County of Los Angeles, et al., returned a unanimous verdict against two of 10 individuals named in Moriguchi's original complaint. The County of Los Angeles, which assumes jurisdiction over the Sheriff's Department, is also named in the ruling.

Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy issued a judgment ordering Sgt. James Maurer and Lt. Anthony Torres to pay Moriguchi $58,400 in damages jointly. Maurer was also ordered to pay $5,000 individually, for actions deemed "malicious and oppressive," McCoy said.

In addition to awarding monetary restitution, the court prohibited the Sheriff's Department from using personnel records that resulted from a retaliatory investigation of Moriguchi by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau. In the wake of the department's inaction, Moriguchi sought to call attention to the incident higher up the chain of command.

Judge McCoy found that Sgt. Maurer threatened to make Moriguchi's life "miserable," if he persisted in making an issue of the racist drawing. Maurer was found to have "fabricated wholly false and sham allegations of wrongdoing against Moriguchi in retaliation for his complaints," Judge McCoy wrote in a judgment dated Aug. 17.

Torres was found to have ignored Moriguchi's concern over discriminatory acts in his unit and to have cooperated with Maurer in falsifying personnel records in a way that would be adverse to Moriguchi. Torres has since left the force and is reportedly now a practicing attorney.

In addition to restitution and punitive damages, the court awarded $70,000 in legal fees to Moriguchi's attorneys, Harvey M. Horikawa and Thomas T. Ono, the cost of which is being borne by the county.

The County Counsel who represented the County of Los Angeles and the Sheriff's Department said briefly Tuesday the decision has been under formal appeal as of Nov. 10, and that details of that appeal would be filed in due time. Being on the county payroll, Sheriff's employees are represented by attorneys for the county.

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