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Jury rules for police in assault suit

Katie Nelson The Arizona Republic Feb. 18, 2005 12:00 AM

TEMPE - A federal court jury cleared a Tempe police sergeant Thursday in a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed he was assaulted after being taken into custody.

The lawsuit filed by Alvin Yellowhair said he was sodomized with a metal nightstick in 1998 after being arrested. The eight-member jury began deliberating Wed- nesday afternoon on whether then-Officer John Ferrin beat and sexually assaulted Yellowhair and whether the city of Tempe should also be held responsible.

The jury found unanimously for Ferrin and the city.

Ferrin and Yellowhair were unavailable for comment.

The trial lasted more than a week before U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee. It focused on an early March morning nearly seven years ago when Yellowhair called 911 after being in a fight. Police showed up at the north Tempe address and arrested Yellowhair, then an Arizona State University biochemistry student.

Neither side debated whether Yellowhair fought and screamed. Or that officers handcuffed and hobbled him because of his aggressive behavior and used a van instead of an ambulance to transport him to get treatment for a cut above his eye.

But their stories differed dramatically on what happened next.

Yellowhair said Ferrin drove to the dirt clearing under the Mill Avenue Rio Salado Bridge. There, Ferrin beat him at least five times on the head and choked him until he "saw stars," Yellowhair said during testimony.

In between the beatings, Yellowhair said Ferrin twice jammed a department-issued metal baton inside him.

Ferrin denied it happened. And Andrew Ching, a senior assistant city attorney arguing on his behalf, said that was not even possible. There wasn't time or motive for the "malicious" assault, Ching said.