Former Universal Pictures co-chairman Brian Mulligan’s lawsuit against the LAPD and two officers is scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday, bringing before a jury his claim that he was harshly beaten by authorities as he visited an Eagle Rock medical marijuana dispensary on the evening of May 15, 2012.
The testimony is expected to present two different stories of what happened that evening.
Mulligan claims that he was the victim of excessive force by a wayward officer, James Nichols, since suspended, who was put on patrol even though the department knew or should have known that he had serious allegations of misconduct against him.
The LAPD and the two officers, Nichols and John Miller, contend that Mulligan was exhibiting “bizarre” behavior and that their attempts to restrain him were justified, particularly because he admitted to using “bath salts,” the designer street drugs that experts say can produce episodes of paranoia and violent behavior.
“This is going to come down to a ‘he said, they said,’” says Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School. “It comes down to a credibility contest. [Mulligan's] biggest problem is that he admits to smelling those salts. On the other hand, I am sure [his] lawyers are going to put out there that he passed the sobriety test.” Mulligan’s legal team also have pointed to a toxicology test of numerous stimulants, taken at the hospital early the next morning, that turned up negative. They also can be expected to emphasize that “nothing deserves the beating he received,” Levenson added.
That’s why a significant question is what U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner allows the jury to see and hear. Still to be decided is whether attorneys for the LAPD will be able to introduce an audio recording, made by Glendale Police several days before the incident, in which Mulligan is heard admitting to an officer that he had used bath salts 20 times.
There also will be an effort on the part of Mulligan’s legal team to delve into the past history of Nichols. He and another officer are under investigation on allegations that they sexually assaulted several women, including one who was working as an informant. Nichols has been placed on inactive duty, and the Los Angeles Times reported that he and the officer, Luis Valenzuela, are awaiting disciplinary hearings in which they can face termination. The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a $575,000 settlement with the informant, who claimed that the officers threatened to send her back to jail unless she had sex with them.
Klausner recently tossed out several of Mulligan’s claims, including one of false imprisonment and another contending that the police union retaliated against him by releasing the Glendale tape as he pursued a complaint. Klausner has separated the two remaining claims into a two-phase trial.
The jury will first consider whether the officers used excessive force against Mulligan. If the jury rules in favor of Mulligan, then the trial will proceed to its second phase, where the jury will be charged with determining damages and whether the LAPD was negligent in supervising Nichols.
Mulligan’s legal team, led by Skip Miller of Miller Barondess, contends that the LAPD knew or should have known of sexual assault complaints against Nichols before the May 15 incident. The city, represented by the office of City Attorney Mike Feuer, claims that a complaint made to internal affairs in 2010 was not substantiated, and it was only after the incident that further complaints were made warranting a wider investigation.
But the jury is likely to hear two very different versions of what happened that evening.
In his suit, Mulligan alleges that he was “minding his own business” on the night of May 15, visiting the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles to fill a prescription at a medical marijuana dispensary. The officers confronted him near the entrance to Occidental College, and gave him a field sobriety test, which he passed. They found $2,500 in cash in his car, but found no evidence of a crime.
Mulligan’s suit contends that the officers handcuffed and searched him, but instead of releasing him, they forced him to check in to the Highland Park Motel and threatened to kill him if he left before morning. Fearful that he was being set up, Mulligan left the motel.
But then he again encountered the officers. He became terrified and tried to run, but the officers attacked him, his suit claims, and Nichols struck him with his baton, swinging it like a baseball bat, shattering his nose and knocking him to the pavement. The officers then beat him in the head, put him on the curb and cuffed his hands behind his back. Nichols then inserted his baton behind his back, “torqued” his shoulders and broke Mulligan’s scapula, before repeating the maneuver and breaking the bone again, his suit claims.
The LAPD contends that at about 10:40 p.m. that evening, they got a call in an Eagle Rock neighborhood that a person was attempting to break into vehicles. The police report, written by Nichols, contends that when Miller and Nichols confronted him, Mulligan admitted to using drugs and asked them to take him to a motel. Nichols concluded that he was not under the influence, and “appeared to be calm, lucid and cooperative.” So they dropped him off at the Highland Park Motel. But at around 1 a.m., they encountered Mulligan again, and he was running into traffic, and he fled when he spotted the officers. According to Nichols’ police report report, when they caught up to him he “took a combative stance,” arched his back, held up both arms above his head and contorted his hands in a “claw-like manner” while “simultaneously baring his teeth and snarling.” Nichols wrote that Mulligan attempted to attack him when he pushed him to the ground and then used force to retrain him.
Mulligan’s attorneys said that he suffered a blow to the face and was left with 15 fractures to his nose, requiring 54 stitches. He was arrested for resisting an officer, but not charged in the incident.
The city has contended that even though Mulligan passed sobriety tests at the scene, the ‘high’ from synthetic drug”has been reported to last as long as six days.” Mulligan’s legal team contends that the effects of the bath salts last only a few hours, and among those on their witness list is producer Simon Fuller, who met with him that day about a potential project.
The first phase of the trial is expected to last about four days.
Mulligan was terminated from his job at Deutsche Bank shortly after the police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, released the Glendale tape to the media.