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San Diego County to pay $1.2 million to eight allegedly roughed up by deputies [Updated]

October 25, 2010 |  3:28 pm

The county of San Diego will pay $1.2 million to eight people who say they were roughed up by sheriff's deputies at a fundraiser last year for a Democratic congressional candidate, lawyers said Monday.

The settlement came after repeated bargaining sessions, said Senior Deputy County Counsel George Brewster. The payments will go to three women who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit and five other people who filed claims with the county.

The money will be taken from the Sheriff's Department budget, Brewster said.

Sheriff Bill Gore, in a written  statement, said he was glad to see the issue settled but added that, "I want to emphasize that I am very proud of the work the men and women of this department do every day under difficult circumstances."

The settlement, he said, "provides little satisfaction" to the department's deputies.

Brewster said the decision to settle was based on a calculation of the possible costs of taking the case to trial. The case was set for trial in federal court in December.

The incident arose during an afternoon fundraiser for Democratic candidate Francine Busby in the backyard of supporters in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, a neighborhood in Encinitas, on June 26, 2009.

After receiving a noise complaint from a neighbor, sheriff's Deputy Marshall Abbott, a former Marine, responded. When Abbott asked one of the homeowners for her age, she refused to give it. He then attempted to make an arrest.

In the melee that followed, Abbott called for backup; six police cars, a helicopter and a police dog responded. Pepper spray was used as attendees at the fundraiser tried to prevent Abbott from making an arrest.

Shari Barman, 61, and Pamela Morgan, 62, were arrested; and Barman spent a night in Vista jail. They and Jane Stratton filed a federal lawsuit. Five others filed claims.

After an investigation, Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis declined to file charges against any of the people attending the fundraiser. She also concluded that the deputy had done nothing wrong.

Busby, who was not at the fundraiser at the time of the incident, later won her party's primary to face Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad).

People who were at the fundraiser have long claimed that the noise complaint that brought Abbott to the scene was phony -- made by a neighbor upset by the idea of a fundraiser for a Democrat. Attending the fundraiser were members of the gay and lesbian community.

Since the incident, the Sheriff's Department has revised its policy manual for deputies so that asking ages is no longer required, officials said.

[Updated at 5:20 p.m.: In a joint statement by Barman, Stratton and Morgan and read by Barman at a news conference, the three said:

"This incident and this settlement are a reminder that sheriff's deputies are not above the law. In this country there are well-defined civil rights that are designed to protect all of us, particularly the sanctity of our homes. It is up to each of us to stand up for those rights."]

 -- Tony Perry in San Diego