The city of Hermosa Beach and a motorist accusing the HB police department of conspiracy appear to be closing in on a settlement.
Former Hermosa Beach police officer Anthony Parente, who retired last June, stands accused of ramming his police motorcycle into the back of Brian Hitchcock’s BMW in June 2010 at Ford Avenue and Artesia Boulevard in Redondo Beach.
The collision vaulted Parente over his handlebars and into Hitchcock’s back seat. The bizarre scene was captured on camera by onlookers, and the image of Parente’s booted feet sticking out of the car went viral on the internet.
Hitchcock, a technical writer for Skechers in Manhattan Beach, was originally accused of stopping abruptly and causing Parente to strike his vehicle. But after the charges against Hitchcock were dropped last January, Hitchcock, 60, filed suit in Federal Court in July accusing Parente of purposefully ramming his car in order to obtain medical leave.
“Parente knew he was the sole and exclusive cause of this traffic collision and attempted to shift blame to [Hitchcock],” the lawsuit states.
Hitchcock’s lawsuit also claims the Hermosa Beach police department knew Parente wasn’t telling the truth about the accident and covered up for him, an accusation Hermosa Beach officials say is unfounded. Parente did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Hitchcock’s attorney, Thomas Beck, said that Parente has a history of filing false workman’s compensation requests. Parente, who was on medical disability leave since the accident until his retirement in June, has taken medical leave and filed for workman’s compensation six times, according to Beck, including three times during his four years with the Inglewood School Police Department and three with the Hermosa Beach Police Department, where he began working in 2005.
Parente, 44, claimed that when the traffic light changed, Hitchcock passed him on his right in the parking lane. Parente said that he activated the siren on his motorcycle, and the accident was caused when Hitchcock made an unsafe lane change and slammed on his brakes, causing the BMW convertible to rise up and Parente’s motorcycle to collide into the rear end of the car.
Five months after the accident, Hitchcock filed a personal complaint with the HBPD, saying there were witnesses that refuted Parente’s version of events.
Then Police Chief Greg Savelli later told Hitchcock that a “thorough” investigation had been performed and determined that Parente committed no wrongdoing, according to court documents. The lawsuit alleges that Savelli and ten members of the police department were “intentionally deceptive” to protect Parente.
According to the lawsuit, Parente was not interviewed as other witnesses at the scene had been. Parente met with a RBPD detective on Sept. 2, 2010, and four days later Parente submitted a written statement about what happened to cause the accident.
Parente claimed that while he was sprawled out in Hitchcock’s backseat, he was fearful Hitchcock was going to remove the loaded shotgun from his motorcycle. Parente wrote in his written report that Hitchcock was “not normal” and “his behavior indicated to me that he was somebody who had a dislike for police officers” and “was capable of committing more harm to me,” according to court documents.
Parente’s allegations and reports were provided to the Redondo Beach Police Department, which presented them to the Los Angeles District Attorney.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office accused Hitchcock of stopping abruptly, causing Parente to hit him. The case was scheduled to go trial a year ago this month at the Torrance Courthouse, but the charges were dropped before jury selection got underway.
Beck said that Redondo Beach City Prosecutor Brenda Wells unloaded the case after he presented her with evidence that refuted Parente’s claims, including surveillance video of the incident and a prior crime report in which Parente made a similar claim that a motorist in 2008 had caused him to ram into the back of a vehicle in Redondo Beach.
“It was that that soured her on the case and when she confronted [Parente] he had no proper explanation,” Beck said.
Wells, who left as Redondo Beach city prosecutor to work in a non-profit, could not be reached for comment. Current RB City Prosecutor Melanie Chavira said she does not know why the charges against Hitchcock were dropped.
Beck also said he learned that Parente’s motorcycle contained a “black box” that records traffic information, such as speed. Hermosa police have said it did not function.
Beck had previously represented Hermosa Beach resident Enrique Coello, who received a $122,000 settlement in 2009 after he was arrested inside his home and held in jail for six hours following a neighbor’s complaint about a loud party. Among the police officers named in Coello lawsuit was Parente.
According to court documents, Parente said he suffered pinched nerves in his neck, balance and coordination issues with bone spurs, massive bruising with blood pockets at the right shoulder, a bruised lung, low back pain, a bruised groin, headaches, burning and tingling from the back of his head to his shoulder, tingling in his face, respiratory problems, left leg spasms, depression, and the inability to do household chores, recreational activity, including riding his personal motorcycle, ride a watercraft and play with his dogs.
Hitchcock’s federal lawsuit seeks compensation for attorney’s fees he accumulated while defending himself against the assault charges, as well as compensation for emotional and mental pain, fear, anxiety and torment.
In court, the city of Hermosa Beach has yet to file a response to Hitchcock’s claims. Hermosa Beach City Attorney Mike Jenkins said that the city was recently granted 60 days to file a response in order to consider early mediation and try to resolve the case.
The city has contracted with an experienced litigator who specializes in representing municipalities against civil rights claims against police officers, Steve Rothans.
“[Rothans] is currently undertaking an investigation of [Hitchcock’s] lawsuit,” Jenkins said. “Once that investigation is completed, we’ll be reporting back to the City Council, relative to his assessment of the case and how the city should proceed in the case.”
Asked about the allegations, Jenkins said, “It’s very typical for lawyers to respond with a knee jerk response that we deny all allegations. I think a more fair response is that we are looking at them.”
Asked specifically about the allegations of conspiracy within the department to cover up for Parente, Jenkins said, “Based on our investigation to date, we have seen no evidence of that.”
Related: Hermosan gets $122,000 after arrest