LAPD Found Not Liable for Excessive Force in Ex-Universal Chairman’s Lawsuit

Brian Mulligan
Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images

A federal jury has found that police did not use excessive force when former Universal Pictures chairman Brian Mulligan was beaten in a bizarre incident in 2012 after he was stopped outside a medical marijuana dispensary.

The jury of five women and three men, after deliberating for about two hours on Friday, found that officers James Nichols and John Miller had not violated Mulligan’s civil rights and had not engaged in battery. Mulligan sued the two officers and the LAPD.

“The two police officers went above and beyond with Mr. Mulligan (that night). They were trying to help him out,” Denise Zimmerman, deputy city attorney, told reporters outside the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. She said that she believed that the jury “made a credibility call. It was the right one.”

Mulligan and his attorney, Skip Miller, had no comment as they exited the courtroom.

The LAPD contended that Nichols and Miller needed to restrain Mulligan after he had shown aggressive behavior toward them that evening in May 2012. But Mulligan, who was hospitalized after the incident with a broken nose and shoulder blade and other injuries, contended that he feared for his life and was the victim of rogue officers, one of whom, Nichols, was later suspended as an investigation is being conducted into unrelated claims of sexual assault while on duty.

But those allegations were not brought before the jury in Mulligan’s case, although it was likely they would have been had they ruled in his favor and the case proceeded to another phase, over whether the city was negligent in supervising its officers.

“They last year, with all of the miserable allegations against these police officers, we are extraordinarily happy that truth prevailed,” said Pete J. Ferguson, attorney for Nichols. “All the well-paid experts cannot change the truth that these officers did nothing wrong.” He added, “They are glad it is over with they they can get back to work.”

Much of the city’s case against Mulligan centered on his admission that he had used bath salts, the designer drugs that can generate psychotic episodes. Mulligan testified that it was “just a mistake” that he had used them, but he has contended that he was not under the influence of the synthetic drug the night of the incident.

Mulligan explained that on May 13 — two days before the beating — he was faced with a red-eye flight to New York and he asked Glendale police officer and drug recognition expert Peter Robinson about the impact of using bath salts and was told to “stay away.” The evening of the incident, the officers determined that he was not under the influence and, according to a report presented by his attorneys, a drug test conducted at the hospital turned up negative for drugs other than sleep aids.

But he testified that he feared for his life that evening, as the officers, after their initial encounter with him, dropped him off at a nearby motel and threatened his life if he left. Mulligan did leave, only to encounter them again, when he was beaten. He claimed that Nichols struck him with his baton, swinging it like a baseball bat, and then used his baton to restrain him by his shoulder blades, breaking his scapula twice.

Attorneys for the officers and LAPD have attempted to portray Mulligan as an unhinged drug abuser who was under the influence to the point of frothing at the mouth and threatening the officers with physical harm. Mulligan admitted he told Nichols that he had used bath salts two weeks earlier — but denied several times that he told Miller that he had used the drug just four days earlier. The drug was legal at the time.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement that “it is gratifying that the jury in this case ruled Mr. Mulligan’s allegation to be unfounded.”

Zimmerman, representing the city and Miller along with Deputy City Attorney Michael Amerian, told the jury in her opening statement on Tuesday that officers found two bottles of “white lightning” in Mulligan’s car after they confronted him outside a medical marijuana dispensary on May 15, 2012 — triggering the chain of events leading to the beating.

Mulligan’s resume includes a stint as Fox TV chairman and as managing director and vice chairman of media for Deutsche Bank. He was terminated from his job at Deutsche shortly after the police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, released the tape of his conversation with Robinson to the media.