Settlement reached in suit against Cobb police

Attorneys for a 23-year-old Latino man announced Wednesday that they have reached a settlement with Cobb County in a lawsuit against the county's police department.

Angel Francisco Castro Torres claimed in the lawsuit that two officers stopped him without cause, beat him and then jailed him on a pretext in an effort to get him deported.

Cobb County, in a statement issued late Wednesday night, said Castro Torres received $32,500 and the lawsuit was dismissed against the county and the officers involved, and that the settlement was no admission of county liability or wrongdoing. The statement also said the FBI and county internal affairs office investigated the officers' conduct and found no policy or criminal violations.

The civil rights lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta alleged that Castro was riding his bike on South Cobb Drive in unincorporated Smyrna on March 26, 2010, when he was stopped by Officers Jeremiah M. Lignitz and Brian J. Walraven. The lawsuit said the officers asked to see Castro's identification and inquired about his immigration status. At some point during the stop, the lawsuit alleged, Lignitz punched Castro, breaking his nose and eye socket.

Castro was arrested on two charges of obstructing a law enforcement officer, which were later dismissed.

The police report and arrest warrants offered a different version of the incident when the man was stopped. Officers stated that they noticed Castro riding his bicycle because he was wearing unspecified "gang attire." The officers reportedly stopped Castro when he rode his bicycle into the crosswalk in front of them, almost striking their patrol car. They stated that Castro gave his name but was evasive when questioned about his date of birth.

At one point, the police report said, Castro tried to break away from the officers, so Lignitz grabbed him and pushed him against the patrol car. Lignitz stated he struck Castro with his forearm when Castro tried to reach toward the officer's duty belt to grab his Taser.

Castro was represented by Brian Spears as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Project, two organizations that say their goal is to put an end to a program that has resulted in the deportation of more than 6,500 illegal immigrants from the Cobb County jail. The program, known as 287(g), is a local-federal partnership that trains deputies to identify inmates who are in the country illegally and hand them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Gwinnett, Hall and Whitfield counties and the Georgia State Patrol also participate in 287(g).

“No amount of money can ever make up for the blatant violations of our client’s constitutional and civil rights or the injuries he suffered,” Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a news release. “But we hope this settlement sends a clear message that these types of abuses won’t be tolerated.”