Press Release

Fresno Jury Awards a Record $625,000 to Firebaugh Woman for Wrongful Arrest and Denial of Medication

Fresno, California (November 17, 2003) - Today, a jury in federal court in Fresno awarded $625,000 to Maria Alvarado de Munoz, age 59, for her wrongful arrest and detention. This is believed to be the largest verdict awarded in a strip search case.

On September 20, 2002, shortly after 9:00 a.m., two deputies from the Fresno County Sheriff's Department went to the Firebaugh home of Maria Alvarado de Munoz, who suffers from diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. They had an arrest warrant for a woman named Maria Herrera, who had never lived in Firebaugh. The deputies contended that before going to Mrs. Alvarado de Munoz's home, they learned that Mrs. Herrera had used an alias of "Maria Munoz."

When the deputies arrived at plaintiff's home, they showed her a DMV photograph of the woman they were looking for and told her she was under arrest. As it turns out, the picture was of a third woman, who lives in Southern California. Mrs. Alvarado de Munoz told them that she was not the woman in the picture and showed them her own California DMV ID card. The deputies arrested her anyway, and took her to the jail, where she was strip searched and never received her vital medications.

The trial began on November 4 before the Honorable Oliver W. Wanger. The jury awarded $625,000 after finding Fresno County liable for negligence and a violation of Mrs. Alvarado de Munoz's federal constitutional rights.

Mrs. Alvarado de Munoz was represented at trial by Arturo J. Gonzalez and Sylvia M. Sokol from Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, and by Robert Y. Chan from San Francisco.

This is the fourth largest verdict for Arturo Gonzalez and Robert Chan. In 1993, they obtained a verdict of $1.5 million for four Dinuba woman who were unlawfully strip searched. In 2000, Gonzalez and Chan obtained a $12.5 million verdict for the family of a Dinuba farm worker who was shot and killed during a SWAT raid, and then in July of this year they obtained a $3 million settlement against the City of Modesto for the death of an 11-year old boy during a SWAT raid.




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