RENO - Jurors on Tuesday were given two dramatically different versions of the July 1996 raid on a Carson City home, which the family of Phillip Maita says resulted in his death.
The arguments came during the opening day of the Maita family's federal court suit seeking damages, claiming Carson Sheriff's deputies violated Maita's civil rights. The civil trial is being conducted by U.S. Magistrate Robert A. McQuaid, Jr. and is scheduled to take until Monday.
Sheriff's deputies burst into the home that morning with warrants to look for stolen goods and possibly drugs belonging to Maita's grandson, Duke. They found drugs and other evidence to charge him with several crimes as a result of the raid.
But in the process, lawyer James Andre Boles told the federal court jury two of those deputies severely injured Phillip Maita when they slammed the 78-year-old into a wall and then down to the floor. Maita's stepson, Mark Mattoon, a Carson City chiropractor, sued the sheriff's department claiming that was excessive force against an old man and that the injuries deputies Dan Holub and Paul Martino caused resulted in Maita's death just two weeks later.
"There was violent contact between Dan Holub and Mr. Maita," said Boles.
And, a few seconds later, he said Martino also slammed into the victim, knocking him down and breaking his left arm just below the shoulder.
Then, Boles said, the deputies delayed calling an ambulance despite the pain Maita was suffering.
"We will tell you the evidence will show he laid there 20 to 30 minutes or more," he said.
But Carson Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg said that story bears only superficial resemblance to the truth.
He said deputies used a battering ram to enter the house on Parkland the morning of July 13, 1996 because Duke Maita didn't answer the door even though he was up and at the kitchen table. He said they entered the house in force because they were looking for a suspected drug and stolen goods dealer with a criminal history and that Duke's mother, Phyllis was also an ex-felon.
Forsberg said deputies charged in to secure everyone in the house and control the situation so no one got hurt but that Deputy Steve McKissick had to tackle and subdue Duke Maita, who tried to escape.
As Holub and Martino headed down the hall to secure the bedrooms, Forsberg said they were met by Phillip Maita, "cursing and yelling to get out of his house." He said Holub pushed Maita aside because he was blocking the hall but that Maita didn't even fall down. Martino followed, according to Forsberg, lowering the Maita to the floor.
He said the force used was far from excessive and that Martino returned once the house was secured and as an emergency medical technician began treating the elder Maita. The ambulance, he said, was called within five minutes of the incident.
He said the evidence will show Maita died of an acute form of leukemia and that he also suffered congestive heart failure, diabetes and lung disease. He said several doctors will testify but that none will blame the elder Maita's death on his injuries that night or the broken arm.
Boles said the force was excessive.
"What happened here is that two relatively young, healthy, physically competent deputies had a very violent confrontation with a 78-year-old man," he said.
Boles said the resulting trauma and stress set off all of Maita's other physical problems and from there, it was all downhill. Maita died 15 days later.
Forsberg said the evidence will show Maita died of all his other physical problems, and that the two deputies did nothing excessive under the circumstances.
"He was very aggressive that day despite his age," he said. "And are officers Holub and Martino responsible for executing that search warrant or is Duke Maita responsible for the chaos he brought down on his family?"