Tuesday, September 12, 2017

MLB Player sues LAPD and loses

The case I am about to relate to you stems from a police case of mistaken identity and the victim was major league baseball player, Don Rudolph. In 1963 Rudolph was a pitcher with the Washington Senators. He had signed his contract for 1964 and after the incident signed his 1965 contract for $7,000. As stated in the court papers this was a 40% cut in salary. Rudolph blames this on the incident I am about to relay here.

It began in December 1963 when Don, his wife Patti Waggin, their child Julena and Patti's brother Al Hardwicke, his wife Margie (although in court papers it states Mary), child and a relative named "Borden  Anderson," were at Don's home on Index Street in Granada Hills. If I am not mistaken Borden was a relative also known as "Scootchie" in letters I have written by Patti during her life.

At about 9:00 at night on December 5th, according to Don's testimony in court papers, Police officers (detectives) burst into the home without warrants, entered "wrongfully and with force," and the police "cursed, manhandled and berated" Don and Al. Finally they were "forcibly taken from this home and taken to two police stations, detained, interrogated, threatened and ultimately released."

Furthermore the testimony follows "All conduct was done in the presence of women and children, causing great fear, hysteria, upset and pandemonium." As a result they were compelled to seek medical treatment and continue to do so." Another key is as follows;

"In addition, Mr. Rudolph suffered injury to his left shoulder and arm, which may affect his occupation as a major league professional baseball player to the total damages of $500,000."

Don was a left handed pitcher. Don sued for half a million dollars in damages and another half million in punitive damages. He seems to claim his 1965 contract reflects the incident in one way or another. He goes on to say it now takes him "longer to warm up" and he must throw all year round to keep his arm loose. Whether this is true or not, it makes a great point for the suit. At any rate MLB at the time would have sided likely with law enforcement and Don may have been an outcast at the major league level.

As it was, Don never pitched in 1965 in the big leagues. His 1963 season, he was a workhorse throwing nearly 175 innings but lost 19 games for a lousy team. In 1964 he was 1-3, mainly in relief pitching only 70 innings. His brother told me they wanted to send him back to the minor leagues but he refused and was released. He was only 34. There might be some thinking the incident reflected on his status in MLB at the time.

We have tried to reach out to his lawyer at the time to get a feel for what Don was really thinking and if he wanted to pursue this as it happened. The lawyer refuses to talk to us. He has had his own issues with the state bar over the years. In his suit, Don named both police officers, Chief Parker, and two other uniformed officers as well as the City of Los Angeles.

There is a lot of confusion because the police report, while granting this was a case of mistaken identity, claimed a lot less violent confrontation.In court documents the defense testifies they were actually polite and did not burst in but "rang the doorbell" and were "admitted."

Furthermore, Don claims they were fingerprinted and photographed and the FBI and the State Bureau of Investigation held those photos. Don wanted them back because he didn't want, as a professional ballplayer, those photographs or mug shots circulating. He was right in demanding that but wrong in his assumption. Police records show he was never the subject of a mug shot. Don later admits in sworn testimony he assumed he was photographed but later learned he was part of "a line up."

In reality, what happened was a true case of mistaken identity. The cops were looking for two white men in a bunco fraud scheme involving the sale and licensing of fire extinguishers and later cosmetics. The two men fit the description of Don and Al. The fact Al was a convicted felon didn't help matters. The fact Don screamed at them he was a major league pitcher with the Washington Senators during the incident, didn't give police cause to believe him either.

The cops waited in a stake out across the street from the Rudolph home on a tip and their own investigative work (which evidently wasn't as good as they thought it was). A car came home shortly before 9:00 and Don got out and went into his house. Shortly thereafter while the Rudolph's and the Hardwicke's were enjoying a night watching television and snacking, the police came to the door.

Don's own handwritten notes (which I have) explain in detail how they busted into the room without a warrant, made accusations, threw him to the ground and handcuffed them both.  Both in total contrast to the police who say they questioned the two men directly before handcuffing them while they were standing up. They state they cuffed Hardwicke "in front," which in itself is unusual but maybe not for the day.

In the end the judge (no jury trial which seems odd) sided with the police. In 1965 Los Angeles this is not out of the ordinary. It was under Chief William Parker's regime. Parker is one of the least respected police chief's around.

The judge let the cops off Scott free and ordered Don to pay their court costs of $353.00.  The judge said his injuries were not significant, they were not fingerprinted or photographed, and they were not held illegally and were released in a couple of hours when it was realized they were not the crooks the cops were really looking for. Sort of a no-harm no-foul situation.

Don on the other hand was crying foul for everything from his injuries to false arrest and imprisonment. Certainly being hauled away in a police car in front of friends and neighbors in a quiet community, was not how he wanted to be remembered. It took a year almost to the day of the incident to get a final court ruling from Judge Aubrey Irwin of the Superior Court of Los Angeles...December 21st, 1965.

Don got nothing for his injury, except it looks like some insurance coverage and he never again pitched in the big leagues, or the minors for that fact. He was killed three years later in a tragic  accident in the San Fernando Valley at age 37. The brakes went out in his truck on what was to be the vehicles last run before being disposed of, according to a family member, and it rolled over throwing him from the vehicle.

It is a sad case and there are still some questions left open which I believe his attorney at the time could answer. He won't talk to me however despite numerous attempts. He is in his 80's but still has an office.

The difference in today's world and 1965. I have reported on numerous cases recently with multi-million dollar settlements for much less than happened here. The bottom line is the city and the county today won't fight in court if they feel they can get off much cheaper by settling than paying legal fees. If the city had settled for half a million with Don Rudolph today it would have just gone away. Instead, the city got $353 which Rudolph had to pay, plus his own attorney fees.

The world has changed since 1965 and while back then few people would know about the case (very small write up in the LA Times when it was filed), today Don's face, and especially former burlesque queen and wife Patti Waggin, would have been plastered all over every station in the world. He might have even won at that point.

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