Georgia Metropolis settles 2017 demise lawsuit in police custody

COLUMBUS, Georgia (AP) – A local Georgia government on Tuesday agreed to pay $ 500,000 to settle a family lawsuit of a Hispanic who died in a 2017 fight with police officers.

The members of the Columbus Council met in closed session and agreed to the settlement with Hector Arreola’s family, news outlets reported.

“The council decided that it is in the best interests of all to involve the Arreola family, law enforcement agencies and the citizens of Columbus, Georgia,” Mayor Skip Henderson told WRBL-TV after the vote. “It gives us the opportunity to perhaps begin a healing.”

Councilor Walker Garrett, an attorney who moved to resolve the lawsuit, said the settlement was unrelated to any criminal case a district attorney could pursue against the officers.

“We believe the judge made a pretty strong statement that there was little evidence to justify a murder charge in this case,” Garrett said. “We are now focusing on the civil aspect that enables the family to begin the healing process.”

An Arreola family attorney, Mark Post, issued a statement that the family believes the civil process is complete, the Ledger Enquirer reported.

“The Arreola family is pleased that this issue has been resolved and hopes that this resolution can bring some degree of healing to the community,” said Post.

Arreola’s father, Rodrigo Arreola, signed the settlement agreement on July 9th. It states that $ 490,000 will go to the guardian of Hector Arreola’s young child and $ 10,000 to his estate, which is managed by Rodrigo Arreola.

The agreement says the police officers did nothing wrong, and says the city offered the settlement without the officers’ consent. The officers “expressly deny any liability, responsibility and potential liability,” and the comparison “should not be construed as an admission of liability,” the agreement says.

NAACP leaders in Columbus have compared Arreola’s death to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Columbus NAACP division president Wane Hailes said Arreola said he couldn’t breathe 16 times when an officer sat on him for more than two minutes while Arreola was handcuffed.

The officers were on leave during an investigation but are back on duty.

In June, U.S. District Judge Clay Land ruled he would not dismiss officers Michael Aguilar, Brian Dudley and Aaron Evrard, despite their concerns that the District Attorney was trying to charge them on criminal charges. Land said he doesn’t believe they can be successfully prosecuted for a crime.

Officials requested a postponement of the civil case after Muscogee County’s District Attorney Mark Jones appointed private attorney Christopher Breault as special attorney investigating Arreola’s death. Jones said he hoped Breault would be ready to bring the case on for possible indictment during the ongoing trial, which ends in August.

The officials’ lawyers argued that the criminal investigation was hampering their defense in the civil suit, saying they could testify if they weren’t forced to exercise their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incriminating.

Arreola died while being arrested for misconduct. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s first autopsy report revealed that he died of methamphetamine poisoning. But the agency changed the report last year to say that Arreola died from manslaughter. The change changed the cause of death to “sudden cardiac death following a fight with law enforcement, including reluctance to prone, which makes acute methamphetamine toxicity difficult”.

The lawsuit alleged that the cardiac arrest was due to brain damage caused by the violence that officers used to hold him.

Land wrote that the statute of limitations on all possible state charges other than murder has expired and that the evidence he has seen shows that it is unlikely that prosecutors could prove that the officers acted with willful malice or killed Arreola, while they committed a separate crime. These are the reasons for murder under Georgia’s law.

Jones said last month he respected Land’s judgment, but the criminal case should be heard by a grand jury.