The Weekly previously reported that a March 21 press conference left the impression that veteran Laguna Beach policeman Rock Wagner would sue the Fullerton Police Department. That did not happen—until eight months later.
What changed in the meantime? The 26-year law enforcement veteran’s attorney, for one thing.
At the time of the previous A Clockwork Orange report, Wagner, his sister Wendy and her boyfriend James McBride were represented by Irvine-based lawyer Michael Fell. Their mouthpiece is now Gary Casselman, a veteran Los Angeles civil rights and police brutality attorney.
McBride and Rock and Wendy Wagner were arrested Nov. 28, 2017, by FPD cops for alleged elder abuse and fraud in the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the siblings’ parents. Bonnie and Roland Wagner were removed from the Huntington Beach home they lived in with their daughter and McBride, who were the couple’s full-time caretakers. The Laguna Beach Police Department placed Rock Wagner on administrative leave.
The FPD caught the case—which was big news in Orange County newspapers and on Los Angeles television newscasts, complete with booking photos of the defendants—because it involved a Fullerton financial institution.
However, that cop shop’s further investigation, as well as independent probes by Laguna Beach PD and the district attorney’s office, concluded in February that no crime occurred. A fully exonerated Rock Wagner returned to his patrol car in March. But the damage had been done. The elderly Wagners, who at the time were still barred from contact with their children and McBride, died in the residential care facility they had been placed in before the charges were dropped.
The lawsuit filed Nov. 8 in Orange County Superior Court cites a number of civil rights violations by the scandal-plagued FPD, including false arrest, defamation and wrongful death. Casselman claims that FPD “rushed to produce public statements” while boasting of its “thorough investigation,” yet no attempt was made to announce the case had been “quickly thrown out” due to there having been no crime.
A Fullerton city spokesman declined to comment, except to say the legal claim would be thoroughly investigated.
Um … just like the thorough investigation that led to the arrests in the first place?
Over a 30-year career, Casselman counts among his victories a $2.7 million judgment for the family of a 26-year-old man who was shot to death by Inglewood cops, in the first seven-figure result in a fatal police shooting civil rights case in LA federal court, and $3 million+ settlements in cases involving LAPD officers who rendered a developmentally disabled man a paraplegic and savagely beat numerous young men.
Casselman also represented a man shot six times by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who planted a gun on the victim. Acquitted in two hours by a jury that submitted a note stating it was the deputy who belonged in prison, Casselman’s client in the civil case joined a larger action by multiple plaintiffs against the LASD that led to a $7.5 million settlement as well as the Kolts Report, which implicated deputies in rampant misconduct and led to regular outside monitoring of the department.
Just as famously, Casselman won a $320,000 settlement for murder suspect Juan Catalan, whose alibi was confirmed by Curb Your Enthusiasm outtakes from Dodgers Stadium, where he was in the background as Larry David was filmed in the stands during an actual game. Check out the Netflix documentary Long Shot for more on that amazing case.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.