$4 Million Judgment Against San Bernardino City Unified Over Assistant Police Chief’s Vehicular Negligence

The San Bernardino City Unified School District has sustained a $4.348 million judgment in a lawsuit brought against it by a woman injured in a traffic accident when the district’s assistant police chief, Stephen Donahue, rear-ended her.
According to proof presented at trial in June, LaWanna Martin-Brown had to undergo a total knee replacement when a department-issued car driven by Donahue in after-work hours, while he was either driving home or to a baseball game, slammed into her vehicle.
Donahue was deemed to be at fault in the accident.
In nineteen days of trial proceedings before Judge Corey Lee, including scheduling and jury selection in May and June, Michael Geoola, Chantly Geoulla and Marine Khachoyan represented Martin-Brown while Ryan Miller represented both the San Bernardino City Unified School District and Stephen Donahue and Jeffrey Haynes provided additional representation for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.
It took until May 25, the eighth day of proceedings, to impanel a jury.
Opening statements for the plaintiff were presented on the ninth day of trial on May 30.
There was testimony or presentation of evidence, including the playing of video depositions, on May 31, June 1, June 5, June 6, June 7, June 8, June 12, June 13 and June 14, with the Jury engaging in deliberations on June 15 and again on June 20.A special verdict was filed June 21 with a finding that Donahue was negligent, and that Donahue’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to Martin-Brown and that Stephen Donahue was acting within the scope of his employment when he harmed Martin-Brown.
The special verdict further came to a determination that the district owed Martin-Brown at least $4,348,238.94, given that she had suffered past economic damages of $285,189.47, past noneconomic loss including pain, suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, grief, fear and emotional distress of $1.5 million and would undergo future economic damages, including medical costs calculated at $1,527,860 and would sustain future non-economic loss of $750,000.
The assistant chief of police post was created within the San Bernardino City Unified School District under former District Superintendent Dale Marsden at Marsden’s suggestion.
Donahue was promoted into the post in June of 2015 from a school police sergeant’s position, at which point his salary jumped from $81,530.53, add-ons/perquisites of $2,740.00 and benefits of $23,413.42 for a total annual compensation of $107,683.95 to $108,576.32 in salary in the assistant chief’s position augmented by $8,458.60 in perquisites/add-ons along with $47,376.97 in benefits for what was then a total annual compensation of $164,411.89. In the 8 years and two months since then, Donahue has seen his total annual compensation grow to $242,097.36.
Virtually from the time he was promoted by Marsden to the assistant police chief slot, city residents and parents within the district have wanted to see the position he holds abolished, as many perceived a whole host of the administrative posts that came about during Marsden’s tenure as being superfluous and unnecessary.
Word has spread through the district that Donahue has made frequent use of an unmarked district police department vehicle or vehicles for use unrelated to his job assignment, getting into no fewer than five traffic accidents with them, including an incident in which his daughters were in the vehicle with him at the time of the mishap.
Furthermore, according to a reliable source, Donahue a few years back, discharged his firearm within the school district police station, fortunately avoiding wounding any bystanders.
Word has reached the Sentinel that district officials are torn about what to do with the careless and accident-prone assistant police chief. More district officials than not consider him, in the aftermath of the aftermath of the Martin-Brown verdict to be a district liability. The factor in his favor, the Sentinel is told, is bureaucratic inertia. What is lacking, at least at present, is the will to cashier him, given that a concerted effort to mount an effort to convince him to leave would need to be made, and some are concerned that he would demand a sizable cash payout to retire without a fight.
No one at the district, including Donahue, was willing to speak on his behalf.
-Mark Gutglueck

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