Jury awards Glendale man falsely accused of murder $1.3 million
A federal jury today awarded more than $1.3 million in civil damages to a Glendale man who was falsely accused of murder and spent eight months in a Los Angeles County jail before being cleared of the charges.
Attorneys for Edmond Ovasapyan, 28, sued the Glendale Police Department in U.S. District Court for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, saying that police detectives who arrested him in connection with a 2005 home invasion slaying ignored exculpatory evidence, including his alibi.
The decision by the five-man, two-woman jury means Ovasapyan will receive $1.1 million in compensatory damages. They also found Det. Arthur Frank and Lt. Ian Grimes liable for $150,000 in punitive damages.
Assistant City Atty. Ann Mauer said during the trial that the plaintiff's attorneys mischaracterized the detectives' efforts, including their bid to put forward exculpatory evidence.
"I thought this was never going to happen, I thought I was going to be in jail for the rest of my life," Ovasapyan said, flanked by attorneys Shelley Kaufman and Pat Harris outside the courtroom. "Justice prevailed."
Juror Shlomo Walt offered a similar assessment, saying "I'm glad justice was done" as his fellow panelists shook hands and exchanged words with Ovasapyan.
"It was a case filled with 'I don't knows,' 'I can't recalls' and 'I don't remembers,' " said one juror who declined to give her name. "When someone is charged with murder, you must have probable cause, not possible cause, or the whole system falls apart."
Glendale City Atty. Scott Howard said "Obviously, we are disappointed with the verdict and particularly disappointed with an award of punitive damages against the officers." He said his office would be assessing and reviewing their options and "providing options and recommendations to the Glendale City Council."
Ovasapyan's arrest stemmed from a reported shooting Nov. 1 in the 1300 block of Bruce Street in Glendale. Police said three suspects were physically assaulting a woman inside the house when her son Christopher Shahnazari, 21, came home and tried to intervene.
Shahnazari was shot and later died at local hospital. Ovasapyan was arrested the next day and charged with murder with special circumstances of robbery and financial gain that could have made him eligible for the death penalty.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who handled Ovasapyan's criminal case and was a witness at the civil trial, presented evidence including phone records that helped corroborate that he had been at lunch with his cousin at the time of the slaying.
Glendale attorneys argued that Ovasapyan's whereabouts at the time of the slaying were not clear and eyewitness identification helped bolster the case for a quick arrest. But Geragos called that "a textbook example of the frailties of eyewitness identification."
-- Andrew Blankstein