Benjamin Diaz

Man sues county for wrongful 1984 murder conviction; Alleges sheriff’s detectives coerced witnesses to ID him

Mar 21, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – A Glendora man who claims he was wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned for 27 years is suing Los Angeles County, alleging sheriff’s detectives withheld exculpatory evidence, according to court papers obtained today.

In his civil rights lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court, Frank O’Connell alleges Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives coerced witnesses to identify him as the man who fatally shot Jay French.

Detectives withheld information that could have benefited the defense, according to the lawsuit.

O’Connell maintains he became the prime suspect after French’s ex-wife told detectives she had been in a relationship with him and because he matched a description of the gunman, according to the lawsuit.

Detectives “failed to provide critical exculpatory evidence that would have been helpful to the defense regarding the initial identifications” by eyewitnesses and others, the complaint alleges.

A Pasadena judge overturned O’Connell’s conviction in April after a witness recanted, saying he never got a clear look at the shooter, according to the complaint.

O’Connell, 55, was released from Solano State Prison in April. He wants $1 million for each of the 27 years he was locked up.

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Dorner mistaken ID shooting: LAPD to pay $40,000 to replace Toyota Tacoma destroyed by more than 100 bullets

Mar 16, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – Mother-and-daughter newspaper carriers who were wounded when officers mistook their truck for Christopher Dorner’s while hunting for the revenge-bent ex-LAPD officer will get $40,000 from the city for damage to their vehicle, but personal injury claims are still likely.

The agreement between City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and the attorney for the women resolves a property damage claim resulting from the Feb. 7 shooting that injured the carriers and destroyed the Toyota Tacoma they used to deliver newspapers in Torrance.

“I’m hopeful we can come to some resolution as to the rest of the case,” Glen Jonas, the women’s attorney, said at a news conference at City Hall announcing the settlement.

The women have not yet filed a claim against the city for their injuries, but the prospect is likely, Trutanich said.

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck previously pledged to provide a truck to Margie Carranza, 47, and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez, who were delivering newspapers when officers mistook their truck for Dorner’s.

Hernandez was shot twice in the back, and Carranza was injured by broken glass. Their blue Tacoma was riddled with more than 100 bullets.

“They are both suffering the impact of what happened,” Jonas said.

Beck previously called the shooting “tragic” and promised to provide a truck from a donor despite the possibility that the women would sue the city and department.

Although a dealer had offered to donate a Ford truck to the women, the shooting victims would be liable for about $10,000 in taxes on the new vehicle. Instead of taking the donated truck, the women now have $40,000 to buy a new vehicle — or not, Jonas said.

“They can do whatever they want with the check,” the lawyer said.

Trutanich applauded Jonas’ commitment to resolving the truck issue quickly and thanked City Councilman Dennis Zine for his part in putting the two together.

Zine said that on Tuesday, after hearing a radio show about the women’s troubles with the truck replacement, he figured “there’s got to be a way to solve this.”

Settlement discussions between the city attorney and Jonas were “the fastest in my four years in office,” Trutanich said.

He said Jonas was unusually reasonable throughout the process, and did not take about $25,000 in legal fees for his work on the deal.

As for the damaged truck, the city attorney said the LAPD has agreed to keep it in storage for a year for use in any lawsuits that might arise.

Trutanich added that the compensation agreement announced today does not include an admission of guilt by the city or the LAPD.

Dorner was accused of killing four people, including a Riverside police officer, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy and daughter of a former LAPD captain, during a rampage fueled by his anger over being fired from the Los Angeles force several years ago.

The disgruntled ex-cop’s remains were found inside a burned-out Big Bear cabin after a shootout with law enforcement on Feb. 12, culminating a nearly week-long manhunt for the fugitive.

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Lakers’ Ebanks sexual assault lawsuit: Plaintiff seeks shield from public disdain, intrusion of privacy

Mar 16, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – A woman who alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Los Angeles Lakers forward Devin Ebanks is asking a judge to allow her to proceed with her lawsuit against him as “Jane Doe,” saying she “will fall apart” if the public learns her true identity.

The woman sued Ebanks last December in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging assault and battery, sexual assault, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Ebanks has denied the allegations, and the District Attorney’s Office found insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

The woman’s attorney, Cheryl Deptowicz-Diaz, filed a motion scheduled to be heard Tuesday by Judge Samantha Jessner, asking that the plaintiff be allowed to continue using a pseudonym in her court papers.

Ebanks’ lawyers counter that the woman does not have sufficient legal grounds for such protection and that permitting her to do so would compromise their client’s ability to defend himself.

In a sworn declaration submitted in support of her position, the plaintiff says she has been “depressed and vulnerable” since the alleged assault and that she has a hard time not thinking about it.

“I fear that I will fall apart if the public gets a hold of my true name and I get verbally, physically and emotionally attacked,” she states in her declaration, adding that comments on the Internet in reaction to her suit have been “vitriolic and threatening. Already I am made to be an evil woman.”

The woman maintains that through anonymity, she has been able to “shield myself somewhat because I am not known as the person that has accused (Ebanks), a Laker NBA player, of rape, whose criminal complaint was not upheld by law enforcement, and now the woman bringing the lawsuit.”

The plaintiff says the “public interest is served if people like me, facing a relatively more powerful, rich and famous adversary, can bring litigation without fear of public disdain, intrusion of privacy and physical violence, among others.”

But Ebanks’ lawyers state in their court papers that the law does not permit people to proceed with civil cases under assumed names just to avoid “scrutiny in the media” which “could cause embarrassment” to litigants.

“Plaintiff, a recent law school graduate, is merely speculating that she may have difficulty finding employment in her new legal profession if her identify is revealed,” Ebanks’ lawyers say in their court papers.

Ebanks’ attorneys have filed a separate motion to dismiss some of the defamation claims. A hearing is scheduled April 18.

According to the lawsuit, the alleged assault took place on Sept. 13, 2011, after the two met at The Colony nightclub in Hollywood. She claims she agreed to go to the Laker player’s Marina del Rey apartment on the condition they not have sex.

The two began kissing, but after Ebanks began taking off her shorts and underwear, the woman objected and told him to stop, according to her court papers, which allege he then grabbed a condom and became sexually aggressive.

“What’s the big deal, it’s just sex … I’m on the Lakers,” her suit alleges Ebanks told her.

An angry Ebanks later threw her keys, purse and shoes outside and pushed her out of his apartment, according to her court papers.

The woman alleges Ebanks subsequently published false information about her on his Twitter account suggesting she had made up the rape allegations against him.

Prosecutors in December 2011 cited a lack of corroborating evidence for their decision not to prosecute him.

The Lakers chose the 23-year-old Ebanks as the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

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9th Circuit Appeals Court rules against Universal Music Group in copyright lawsuit

Mar 15, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – A federal appellate panel today affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of copyright infringement claims brought by Universal Music Group against an online video-sharing site.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, for the second time, a 2009 Los Angeles federal judge’s finding that Santa Monica-based Veoh Networks is federally protected from liability claims.

District Judge Raymond C. Fisher, who also penned the panel’s 2011 ruling, wrote that Veoh was protected by “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which shields Internet service providers that unknowingly post copyrighted material and act expeditiously to remove it once alerted.

The San Francisco appellate panel previously found that it is up to copyright holders like UMG to “efficiently identify infringing copies” rather than leaving it to providers like Veoh, which “cannot readily ascertain what material is copyrighted and what is not.”

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Case of missing Fox film executive becomes homicide investigation

Mar 15, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – Authorities announced Thursday that the disappearance of Fox film executive Gavin Smith is being investigated as a homicide, although his body has not been found.

The 57-year-old former UCLA basketball player hasn’t been seen since leaving a female friend’s home off Kanan Road in eastern Ventura County between 9 and 10 p.m. on May 1, 2012, in his black, 2000-model Mercedes-Benz 420 E, authorities said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Dolson said Smith’s Mercedes was recovered on Feb. 21 at a storage facility in Simi Valley.

“The storage facility has been linked to John Creech, who is currently in custody at Men’s Central Jail on an unrelated narcotics conviction,” Dolson said.

Last June, a SWAT team and detectives raided a West Hills home owned by Creech. The Los Angeles Times reported afterward that it had obtained documents that indicated sheriff’s deputies felt an unspecified felony related to Smith’s disappearance may have occurred there.

Smith had reportedly met Creech’s wife, Chandrika Creech, in some sort of rehab therapy, according to the newspaper.

Dolson said today that after detectives found Smith’s car, they served several search warrants in the San Fernando Valley “in furtherance of the investigation.”

“Based on the vehicle’s condition and information developed from persons cooperating in the investigation, homicide detectives are now investigating this case as a homicide,” Dolson said.

“Detectives are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the person or persons involved in moving Gavin’s car from the Porter Ranch area in the San Fernando Valley to the storage facility in the Simi Valley on or about May 8 or 9, 2012,” Dolson said.

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‘Top Gun’ director’s estate rejects million-dollar claim by talent agency

Mar 15, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – The estate of the late director Tony Scott has rejected a claim of more than $1 million from Creative Artists Agency.

After the “Top Gun” director jumped to his death off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro Aug. 10, he allegedly had not paid $1,040,522 owed to the noted talent agency, which filed a demand for payment in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 28.

However, last Friday the claim was turned down by R. Dennis Luderer, the personal representative of the Scott estate. No reason was given for the rejection.

Luderer’s court papers state that the value of the Scott estate is $1.25 million.

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Developing videogames at USC ranks top of Princeton Review for 4th consecutive year

Mar 12, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – USC’s videogame-design graduate program continued to score big points in an annual ranking released today by The Princeton Review, finishing atop a list of more than 100 North American schools.

Conducted jointly by USC’s film and engineering schools, the 10-year-old graduate program has earned the top spot all four years The Princeton Review has conducted its rankings. USC’s undergraduate program was ranked second behind the University of Utah.

The USC program includes a one-year games course, of which you can read more, called USC Games, in which students work with faculty to develop their dream game and present it to industry professionals. Students in the USC Games course have gone on to develop such games as “Modern Warfare 3,” “Journey,” “The Unfinished Swan” and “Farmville,” according to the university.

The Princeton Review’s 2012-13 rankings cap a year in which the work of several USC alumni garnered critical acclaim and awards, including Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany, who developed the award-winning “Journey,” a game in which players control a mysterious character as it explores a glistening, dune-filled landscape.

Tracy Fullerton, USC’s Electronic Arts endowed chair of the Interactive Media and Games Division, called it a “banner year” for the program, “with some outstanding new faculty joining us from industry, our brand new interactive building, the 10th anniversary of the program and the amazing achievements of our alumni like those at thatgamecompany, who won eight D.I.C.E. awards last month. It’s all very gratifying to see how our efforts are having real impact for our students and in the industry.”

Each year, The Princeton Review releases two lists ranking graduate and undergraduate schools based on a report from each institution detailing the curriculum, faculty, facilities and infrastructure, career services, student scholarships and financial aid.

The only other California school on either list this year was UC Santa Cruz for its graduate game design program.

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Universal settles lawsuit over ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ porn adaptation

Mar 12, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – Universal Studios and the copyright holder of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books have settled a copyright infringement lawsuit with a Los Angeles adult movie company over a porn parody of the steamy bestsellers, court papers obtained today show.

Universal, which owns the movie rights, and Fifty Shades Ltd. contended in the federal suit filed last November that Smash Pictures violated copyright and trademark laws by issuing “Fifty Shades of Grey: a XXX Adaptation.”

According to the lawsuit, the triple-X parody is a “willful attempt to capitalize on the reputation of the book.”‘

The E.L. James novel tells of an affair between a literature student and a young entrepreneur.

A notice of settlement filed with the court states that an agreement was reached upon “payment of a confidential sum by Smash Pictures to plaintiffs and upon entry by the court of a stipulated judgment for permanent injunction with respect to plaintiffs’ claims for copyright and trademark infringement.”

No further details of the settlement were disclosed.

The plaintiffs alleged that by using “exact dialogue, characters, events, story and style from the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy, Smash Pictures ensured that the first XXX adaptation was, in fact, as close as possible to the original works,” and they sought a judge’s order halting its sale and unspecified monetary damages.

Luv Moves, which apparently packaged the DVD with sex toys in a gift box titled “Fifty Shades of Pleasure: Play Kit & Movie,” was also named in the suit.

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Payroll services manager sentenced for $15 million tax-evasion scheme

Mar 11, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – A former Huntington Beach resident was sentenced
today to 42 months in federal prison for helping two Orange County businessmen
prepare phony tax returns to avoid more than $15 million in taxes.
Denise Browning was convicted in November of two counts of aiding and
assisting in the preparation of false payroll tax returns, following a three-
day trial before U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez.
Along with the prison term, Gutierrez sentenced the 47-year-old Browning
to one year of supervised release and ordered restitution of nearly $815,000,
according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Darwin Thomas.
Prosecutors said in sentencing papers that Browning, while working as a
manager at Fullerton-based Global Payroll Services Inc., was the “architect”
of the scheme.
Co-defendants Michael P. Harvey, formerly of Anaheim Hills, and Jason M.
Harvey, formerly of Yorba Linda, who ran Global and a second company,
Advanced Business Payroll Inc, previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion
charges.
Michael Harvey, 53, was sentenced in February to 30 months behind bars.
Jason Harvey, 32, is scheduled to be sentenced on March 25.

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Police conduct prostitution sweep in massage parlors

Mar 11, 2013

HUNTINGTON BEACH  – Ten people were arrested on suspicion of soliciting for prostitution at Huntington Beach massage parlors, police said today.

City officials are working on an ordinance to cap the number of massage businesses in the city,  Lt. Mitch O’Brien said.

“Our numbers are so high now,” O’Brien said. “But some of these are legitimate massage establishments. We don’t want to paint everyone with a broad brush.”

Since the state was put in charge of regulating massage parlors in 2009, the number of  massage businesses in Huntington Beach jumped from nine to 65, O’Brien said.

The names of those arrested were not immediately available.

Law enforcement from Huntington Beach, Anaheim, the state’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, and the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force conducted an undercover inspection of massage parlors in Huntington Beach on Feb. 28.

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