Davis family quits hit-and-run lawsuit, winning nothing

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 7:51 am

A Davis family that made a federal case out of a minor traffic matter has walked away empty-handed from a 7-year-old civil rights lawsuit.

Halema Buzayan, then 16, was arrested by Davis police in June 2005 and charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run in connection with a fender-bender in a grocery store parking lot.

The teenager's parents denied she had been driving the family's sport-utility vehicle at the time two witnesses said they saw it near the parked vehicle that was damaged. Her mother claimed to have been driving the SUV that day but said she was not aware of hitting another vehicle.

A Yolo Superior Court judge dismissed the charge in April 2006, noting that the owner of the damaged vehicle had been compensated by the Buzayans, even though they denied responsibility.

Three months later, Halema Buzayan sued the Davis Police Department, its chief and four other officers, alleging she was singled out because of her race and dark color. She also accused one of the arresting officers of using excessive force.

In an amended complaint, she added as defendants the city of Davis, the Yolo County district attorney, and the deputy district attorney who handled the hit-and-run case. She also added the Davis newspaper, one of its editors and a reporter, claiming the coverage of her spat with police and prosecutors violated her privacy and libeled her.

Buzayan dropped the lawsuit last month. She received nothing in return.

Her attorney, G. Whitney Leigh, said Monday: "The family, including Halema, is heavily involved in humanitarian work in Libya. They travel there a lot, and the litigation became a real distraction. It was taking up too much time, and they were ready to move on."

He said the costs of pursuing the suit were not a major factor in the family's decision.

Defense lawyer John Whitesides had a different take.

"There wasn't much left" of the suit, he said. "What was left was before the court" in a pending defense motion for partial summary judgment, "so I think (the Buzayans) were wise to do what they did."

Oral arguments on that motion were set for next week before U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. Along the way, England threw much of the suit out, including the attack on the newspaper and its employees. He awarded their attorney, Charity Kenyon, $21,251.49 in fees and costs paid by the Buzayans.

The family also had to pay Whitesides $7,252 in fees and costs after he persuaded England to strike down the complaint's defamation allegation against the city of Davis and its police officers and the district attorney and his deputy.

Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.

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