Las Vegas Sun

June 24, 2017

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Jury begins deliberating in lawsuit against police

An attorney for a Las Vegas woman suing three Metro Police officers over alleged civil-rights violations called the officers "thugs who beat up a woman -- like a wife beater."

An attorney representing the police said the woman, Brenda Nadell, concocted a memory of the incident that occurred nearly five years ago because she was too intoxicated at the time to have any memory at all of the events.

The seven-person jury in the civil case in federal court began deliberations Thursday following a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Philip Pro.

Nadell is suing officers Steven Leyba, Greg Ziel and Michael Etherton and the police department over alleged civil rights violations -- use of excessive force, false arrest, malicious prosecution and similar accusations -- stemming from her July 22, 1994, arrest at 5464 Consul Ave.

Nadell's husband, Brian Nadell, is seeking damages for loss of marital intimacy.

"No one is above the law," Curt Obront, the Nadells' attorney, told the jury during closing arguments. "It is a privilege to be a police officer (but) sometimes police officers violate the law. That's what I submit happened here."

Obront said his client's life was "torn open" not just by the actions of that night but also by Metro's "pattern and policies." The Nadells contend that the officers in question and other police personnel conspired to cover-up the incident after it became apparent that a lawsuit was forthcoming.

"(The officers) were thugs who beat up a woman -- like a wife-beater, for example," he said.

The incident occurred during a police investigation into a domestic dispute. A scuffle ensued between an intoxicated and pregnant Nadell and the officers. Obront reminded the jury of testimony that, during the struggle, Leyba "jammed his hand into her crotch." Nadell later terminated the pregnancy.

Defense attorney Brian Whitaker said in his summation that the evidence does not support that the officers used unreasonable force -- or otherwise violated Nadell's rights -- but rather that they were defending themselves against a combative and drunken woman who they were trying to restrain.

Her blood-alcohol level was 0.28 -- nearly three times the legal limit -- a factor that Whitaker said posed the real threat to Nadell's pregnancy.

"These officers are not being adjudged on a memory but on a memory that was created about that night," Whitaker said. "If you look at all of the evidence and match it against what Mrs. Nadell says, you won't find it (her story having any validity)."

Whitaker argued that her efforts have been "about (civil) litigation from the first day."

Attorney Hugh Davis, also representing the Nadells, said the only things Brenda did wrong was that she was intoxicated and "questioned authority." For that, he said, she was beaten, and carried "half-naked ... like a sack of meat" from the house.

"They (the police) are inviting you to turn reality on its head," he said. "This is what happens when you make a federal case of something. ... This is what happens when the system doesn't work and (instead) closes in on its victim."

During the trial, Brenda Nadell testified she had been drinking the night of the incident at the home of a man who was interviewing her sister, Crystal Guerra, then 19, for a babysitting job. Nadell, then 27, went to sleep in a bedroom to sleep it off.

Police later were called to the home after the owner and his wife got into an argument. The wife suffered a sliced arm and had left by ambulance before the police arrived.

From there, the stories told by both sides widely differ.

While police said they were conducting an investigation, Nadell's lawyers questioned why they stormed into the bedroom and tried to pull the sheets off Brenda Nadell.

"Police had the right to enter that home and that bedroom," Whitaker said. "The officers were trying to find out what happened and leave. ... The basic facts are that Mrs. Nadell is the only one who told you (jurors) that officers beat her up."

Both sides showed pictures of Brenda Nadell that were taken shortly after the incident. Police and jail photos show injuries ranging from none to slight abrasions. Plaintiffs' photos show a woman with significant bruises on her face and arms.

As part of the jury instructions, Pro told the five-woman, two-man panel to calculate just compensatory damages if they feel that damages should be awarded. He told them not to level punitive damages.

It had been agreed by the parties that compensatory damages awarded the Nadells against any of the officers would be paid by Metro. In exchange, the Nadells waived punitive damages.