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August 28, 2014

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Henderson settles lawsuit over police incident

A Henderson man who sued the city after being injured during a traffic stop has agreed to a $75,000 settlement.

The Henderson City Council unanimously approved the agreement Feb. 17.

John Ricci was riding his bicycle to work at Vons on Stephanie Street and Sunset Road about 1:30 a.m. on June 1, 2007, when a Henderson police officer stopped him, because Ricci's bicycle didn't have a headlight.

Accounts of the confrontation differ, but through its course, Ricci claimed the officers handled him in a way that tore his quadriceps tendon, which required surgery that cost him $10,000.

Though Henderson attorneys dispute the source of Ricci's injury, after attending a mediation conference with Ricci's attorney, they agreed to the $75,000 settlement.

"It should be noted that this amount is far less than the amount that would have to be spent by the city going forward in order to take this case to trial," Henderson Assistant City Attorney Ron Sailon wrote in a memo to the City Council.

Sailon wrote that after the officer made the stop, Ricci became agitated, hostile and refused to cooperate. The officer ordered him to place his hands on the hood of the police car and called for backup.

According to the memo, Ricci tried to walk away and the two struggled for a moment before the officer pulled out his Taser and told Ricci he would use it if Ricci did not stop. At that point, Ricci calmed down and waited until the second officer arrived, who placed Ricci in handcuffs.

When Ricci complained about chest pains, the memo said, paramedics were called to the scene, but found Ricci uncooperative and not in need of immediate help, so they left.

Sailon wrote that Ricci's initial diagnosis after the incident was "a slight knee sprain at best," and that the claim of a torn quadriceps tendon came several weeks later.

"It's really clear that no police officer did anything wrong, and the settlement shouldn't be taken to mean that any police officer did anything wrong," Sailon said.

Ricci's attorney, Peter Goldstein, disputes several points of the city account.

"When the police officer stopped (Ricci), he got off his bicycle and the officer immediately pushed him against his vehicle with such force that his quadriceps tendon tore from the impact of his leg against the bumper," Goldstein said.

A number of Ricci's co-workers, who had come outside the Vons to watch as the incident unfolded, testified in depositions that the officers seemed to treat Ricci roughly when they handcuffed him. None of them, however, were present for the initial contact when Ricci allegedly sustained his injury.

Goldstein said Ricci was cooperative and denies having struggled with the initial officer. Goldstein also said it isn't clear why the paramedics left the scene.

Ricci was satisfied by the settlement, his attorney said.

"These are not easy cases," Goldstein said. "Police officers still have a certain benefit of the doubt with juries. … At the end of the day, people want to trust their police officers as the custodians of safety for themselves and for those around them."

Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].

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