A jury Friday ordered a Pasadena policeman to pay $750,000 to a door-to-door salesman who said the off-duty officer pointed a gun at him without justification when he went to the lawman’s Santa Clarita home in 2015 to pitch a security system.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about two hours before finding in favor of 37-year-old Omar Segura of Stevenson Ranch and against 45-year-old Officer Sam Priyamal De Sylva.
Segura, who is black, had contended the officer’s actions may have been racially motivated. However, before final arguments began, Judge Dennis Sandin found that Segura did not suffer any civil rights violations. The judge did not let the jury know of his decision.
The jury found that De Sylva did not act with malice, oppression or fraud toward Segura, barring the plaintiff from seeking punitive damages.
“I’m very pleased,” Segura said outside the courtroom. “Justice prevailed. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the truth being exposed.”
Segura, who is still in the field of sales, said he has not experienced anything similar to the 2015 incident since then.
Segura’s lead attorney, Philip Kent Cohen, said the case illustrates what people such as his client have to sometimes endure.
“It’s scary what can happen,” Cohen said.
In his final argument, Cohen said the case boiled down to one word.
“The word that kept coming to my mind was arrogance,” Cohen said on behalf of his alarm-system salesman client. “Because it was arrogance that got us here today.”
But attorney Thomas Shaver, representing De Sylva, told jurors the veteran lawman was protecting himself and his family. Shaver said Segura violated a Santa Clarita city ordinance by soliciting after sunset and ignored De Sylva’s orders to leave his home, Shaver said.
“Under this set of circumstances, he (De Sylva) acted quite appropriately,” Shaver told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that was tasked with deciding Segura’s allegations of assault, battery and wrongful detention.
In his testimony, De Sylva scoffed at Segura’s racial allegation, saying he has about 20 black friends, including two fellow officers on the Pasadena Police Department who testified on his behalf.
Cohen said being held on the ground at gunpoint for nine minutes will mean a lifetime of emotional distress for Segura. He said whenever someone does a search on Google of the words “Omar Segura Santa Clarita,” the reader is met with a headline of “Aggressive Salesman Arrested at Off-Duty Cop’s Home.”
“This is not what a civilized society puts up with,” Cohen said.
But Shaver said Cohen’s final argument was an apparent attempt to change the theme of the case “from race to arrogance.” Shaver said being detained at gunpoint is “a scary thing, there’s no dispute,” but said Segura was to blame for the escalation of events because he did not leave after De Sylva ordered him off his property.
“This was completely avoidable,” Shaver said. “Mr. Segura did not belong there at the time this happened, it was a violation of the law. He chose to engage knowing … something might get physical.”
Segura went to the officer’s home about 5:45 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2015. The officer told Segura, “Nobody wants you here,” according to the suit Segura filed in July 2015. While testifying in the trial, De Sylva twice denied making that statement.
Segura said he told De Sylva he had a state-issued license to sell the alarm systems, and he approached the door of the De Sylva home when the officer asked to see the permit. Segura said De Sylva “snatched” the permit out of his hands — an allegation the officer also denied.
De Sylva said he reached for his gun from his waistband and aimed it at Segura’s upper body when the salesman entered his home. Segura eventually walked outside and obeyed commands to lie on the ground until sheriff’s deputies arrived, the officer said.
Segura testified he did not know De Sylva was a police officer until he heard him talking to deputies. Segura said he was handcuffed and arrested by deputies, but was not charged with any crime.