14 Nov 1990
NATIONAL CITY - In the midst of the public concern about police shootings, a jury awarded $137,000 to a local woman who was shot and injured in 1988 by a San Diego police officer.
Rosella Esparza, of National City, was shot accidentally by an officer who aimed for a man suspected of shoplifting. Both were in the same car, which was trying to make a getaway from undercover officers.
San Diego officer Angel Baldenegro felt his life was in danger because the suspect accelerated when officers approached the car, Gene Gordon, chief deputy city attorney for San Diego, said.
Baldenegro stood in front of the car and ordered the driver to stop. But when the driver accelerated, the officer fired two shots, Gordon said. One shot hit the door, and the second shot hit Esparza's leg.
The driver later pleaded guilty to burglary.
Gordon said Esparza sued for about $2 but was awarded $37,000 for medical expenses and $100,000 for pain and suffering. He said the city contends the shooting was justified.
"We're disappointed. Both the DA and San Diego Police department found the shooting to be justified," he said. "Had the driver not veered to the right, in all probability the officer would have been struck."
Gordon said public concern about police shootings may have influenced the jury's decision in "some subconscious way," but he said that is only speculation.
"There are people who feel that law enforcement officers are trigger happy," he said.