On this date in 1976, the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram reported that former Grandma’s Ice Cream manager, Richard “Chris” Feddersohn won a $57,500 judgement against Seal Beach and a former Seal Beach police officer Larry Wright.
“Naturally, I feel pretty good about it all because I felt all along I had not done anything wrong,” Feddersohn told Independent Press-Telegram reporter Bob Sanders after the judgement was announced.
Feddersohn’s suit stemmed from his arrest for failure to disperse during the St. Patrick’s Day riot in 1974. The charge was later dropped.
For years, celebrating St Patrick’s Day was a proud local tradition that included a Finnegan’s Wake pub crawl/parade from Belmont Shore with the parade ending at Seal Beach’s Irish themed bars, The Irisher and Clancy’s. In 1973 St. Patrick’s Day celebration fell on a Saturday, and a crowd of St. Patrick’s Day celebrants estimated at around a thousand became unruly on Main Street. Seal Beach police closed the bars and two liquor stores and then dispersed the crowd shortly before 10 p.m..
One year later in 1974, Seal Beach police, anticipating similar St. Patrick’s Day troubles, had a much stronger police presence on Main Street that included additional police officers from Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, and other neighboring cities.
At the time, Feddersohn was manager of Grandma’s Candies at its 113 ½ Main Street location between Clancy’s and The Irisher.
“I went to work about 5 p.m. and we had a big, big night. There were big crowds in the store and we sold a lot of candy, hot dogs, and cookies.
“Around 8 or 8:30 the police asked the two bars and the liquor store across the street to close. Then they blocked off Main Street from Ocean Avenue to Central Avenue.
“About 9:30 a police helicopter flew overhead and ordered the crowd to disperse. There were about 1,000 people on the street, so I decided to close the store.
“Normally we put the furniture out on the sidewalk while we sweep and mop the inside but, obviously, this was no time for that. So I just locked the door and shut off the lights.
“There were about five or six employees, plus the owner (Mrs. Nancy Crawford) inside the store.
“About 30 police officers spread out across the street and started to sweep south from Central toward Ocean. I remember that the officers on each end of the line had dogs.
“When they went past our door, I heard an officer say, ‘Stay inside and keep the door locked.’
“Officers were arresting people all over the place.
“Suddenly there was a police officer pounding on the door. Nancy (Mrs. Crawford) tried to unlock the door, but before she could, the glass in the door was broken out.
“The officer shouted, ‘Get out of here,’ and started pushing people into the street. I was the second from the last to go.
“When I was about 10 feet outside the door, I heard Nancy say, ‘Chris, I’m bleeding,’ and I looked back to see blood on her hands.
“When I tried to go to her, the officer pushed me and said, ‘Go on.’
” I couldn’t see his badge number because his jacket was buttoned, so I asked him his name.
“He answered ‘Larry Wright and you’re under arrest.’
“When he put the handcuffs on me, I didn’t think too much about it, since I was sure I could explain, but when he started hitting me on the back with the billy club, I knew I was in trouble. He and another officer (unidentified) beat me all the way to the paddy wagon.
“But I still thought I would be able to explain when I got to the police station.
“It didn’t work out that way, though.”
“About 1 a.m. I was taken with about 50 other people to the Orange County Jail. About 5 a.m. I found out I was charged with failure to disperse and the bail was $500.
“I called my girlfriend and she came down and bailed me out of jail about 9 a.m.”
Feddersohn claimed that the district attorney’s office pressured him to plead guilty.
“I went to court about 15 or 20 times, and at one time they offered me a $10 fine to plead guilty.”
Feddersohn was working toward a teaching credential, so he refused. “I knew I couldn’t afford to have a conviction on my record.”
Ultimately, the district attorney’s office offered to drop the charge after a six month’s continuance if Fedderson didn’t get into any more trouble within that period. Six months later, the charges against him were dropped.
But Feddersohn couldn’t drop the matter.
“I went to a Seal Beach Businessman’s Association meeting and told what happened, but no one paid any attention. Then I spoke to the council and asked for an investigation.
“They said there would be one but there never was. That’s when I decided to sue.”
Feddersohn hired Seal Beach attorney Stan Steinberg and filed suit against the city and against Wright. The Superior Court trial took over three weeks and ended with the jury awarding Fedderson $ 50,000 for general damages from the city and $7,500 for punitive damages from Wright. The Independent Press-Telegram story stressed that when “a jury awards punitive damages, it usually indicates they believe the officer acted with malice.”
Officer Wright had been fired by Seal Beach Police Chief Ed Cibbarelli approximately a year after he arrested Fedderson. Cibbarelli claimed that Wright’s termination had to do with “several other incidents of improper procedure. Some of which involved “excessive force.”
But Chief Cibbarelli did not agree with the jury’s decision. “I felt that officer Wright did the right thing in making the Feddersohn arrest, and I feel that way today.”
– Michael Dobkins
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