Dodgers ordered to pay $100,000 to fan beaten by stadium security at 2018 opening day

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2018: Opening Day ceremony as the Dodgers.
Opening day ceremony at Dodger Stadium on March 29, 2018. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A Riverside County man who alleged that he was wrongfully beaten by security personnel at Dodger Stadium on opening day in 2018 has been awarded $105,000 in punitive damages in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The court on Friday assessed $100,000 of Francisco Rodriguez's damages against the Dodgers and $5,000 against Dodgers security officer Erik Pena, who was found to have acted with malice. Several other security officers included in the lawsuit were found not to have acted inappropriately.

Rodriguez alleged that security officers forcibly ejected him after he objected to the way another fan was being dealt with during the March 29, 2018, game against the San Francisco Giants. The guards escorting Rodriguez to the exit continually battered him, including jabbing his ribs with a baton and repeatedly punching him with closed fists, according to the lawsuit, which also alleges that a guard placed his knee on Rodriguez, who told him, "I can't breathe."

The Dodgers said Rodriguez grabbed Pena by the collar outside the stadium gates and slugged him on the right cheek, according to court documents. Rodriguez admitted taking a swing at Pena and said the guard retaliated by punching him as many as six times.

Read more: Three lawsuits accuse Dodgers security of violence against fans

The Dodgers have several lawsuits against them in the courts. Three suits filed in April 2022 outline three incidents in which security officers allegedly perpetrated acts of assault, battery, false imprisonment, civil rights violations and emotional distress against fans at Dodger Stadium.

According to court documents, the team’s security force is composed of “non-sworn persons,” uniformed off-duty sworn Los Angeles Police Department officers and sworn off-duty law enforcement officers without badges.

A Times investigation in September reported that security at Dodger Stadium increased after a 2011 incident in which two Dodgers fans confronted Giants fan Brian Stow and his friends in the parking lot after a game. They sucker-punched and kicked Stow, causing brain damage. The men were sent to prison for assault and mayhem.

Read more: How dangerous is going to a ballgame at Dodger Stadium?

The Dodgers and the LAPD responded to a report by Major League Baseball that cited a deterioration of crowd behavior and “a culture of apathy and indifference” among the team’s security staff by beefing up security with trained LAPD officers.

“We will expend whatever resources necessary to keep fans safe at Dodger Stadium,” said Charlie Beck, chief of police at the time. “This is going to be a game-changer.”

After Beck announced a crackdown, police in 2011 wrote only 20 reports, 12 of which involved assault, battery or other alleged violence against 12 victims at Dodger Stadium. By 2014, however, that total had grown to 69, including 33 violent incidents and 47 victims.

In 2022, 71 crime reports, including 35 violent incidents and 47 victims, were filed, and as of mid-August 2023, police had filed another 53 reports — 27 for violence against 33 victims. The alleged behavior included battery, battery on a police officer, simple assault and assault with a deadly weapon.

The Dodgers forbid pregame tailgate parties in the parking lot, revoke season tickets for bad behavior and eject rowdy fans. Yet stricter enforcement by security staff has led to the rash of lawsuits for excessive use of force.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.