Clovis News

Jury: Off-duty Fresno officers helped rough up farm owner

Two off-duty Fresno police officers helped a relative rough up the owner of Simonian Farms in December 2005, a jury ruled Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Jurors voted unanimously to award Dennis Simonian $7,500 in damages for battery and emotional distress related to the confrontation that happened as families were looking at Christmas trees on Simonian's farm.

Jurors also ordered the officers' relative -- Robert Osborne Jr., 32 -- to pay $500 in punitive damages.

"This case was about getting the truth out, and it took nearly four years to do it," Simonian said after the verdict was announced in Judge Adolfo Corona's courtroom.

Simonian, 66, said his civil lawsuit against Osborne was never about money. Rather, he wanted the public to know that Fresno police officers Thomas Hardin Sr. and his son, Thomas Hardin Jr., allowed Osborne to assault him at Simonian Farms. Osborne is married to the elder Hardin's daughter.

The two officers were off duty and with Osborne and other relatives looking at Christmas trees at Simonian Farms in southeast Fresno on Dec. 11, 2005. Simonian became upset when a man in Osborne's group dragged a Christmas tree across the lot, damaging it.

When Simonian asked the man to leave, a confrontation ensued.

Osborne grabbed Simonian's throat and began pushing him backward, court records said.

Thomas Hardin Jr. then "grabbed Simonian's arm violently from behind, dragging Simonian between rows of Christmas trees," the documents revealed. Hardin Sr. also assisted in accosting Simonian, the court papers said.

"Someone call the cops," Simonian yelled.

"We are the cops," one of the officers responded, according to Roger Nuttall, who represents Simonian.

After someone dialed 911, the two officers left before sheriff's deputies arrived, court records said.

During the trial, sheriff's investigators testified that Simonian was ornery, verbally aggressive and tough to get along with. But Nuttall said Simonian is a kind man who gave then-President Bill Clinton a tour of his business at Jensen and Clovis avenues in 1995.

The jury foreman, Hank Palmer, said after the trial that it was refreshing to hear a plaintiff not ask for an exorbitant amount of money. "He just wanted the truth as he saw it verified," Palmer said.

Palmer said the panel was perplexed by the sheriff's investigation because detectives took statements from just the two sides in the dispute.

Osborne and his witnesses, including the two off-duty officers, said Simonian started the altercation by being verbally mean to a woman in their group, Nuttall said.

Simonian and his witnesses said the attack was unprovoked.

"It would have helped us to have unbiased witnesses," Palmer said.

The panel "thought it was strange" that the two off-duty officers left the scene before deputies arrived, he said. "I would think with their training they would have tried to lessen the tension, not accelerate it," Palmer said.

In the end, the jury felt Simonian was telling the truth, he said.

Osborne and his lawyer, Malcolm Stewart, declined to comment. Osborne has never been charged in connection with the attack.

Efforts to speak with Police Chief Jerry Dyer were unsuccessful.

Sheriff's spokesman, deputy Chris Curtice, said investigators identified Simonian as the victim and they had recommended to the District Attorney's Office that charges be filed against Osborne. But he also said Simonian gave conflicting statements about the incident, saying he wasn't hurt seriously and didn't want the Sheriff's Department to do anything.

"We did our job," he said.

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