Jury sets damages at $40 million in death of pedestrian struck by CHP officer with vision problems

A Los Angeles County jury on Friday, June 21, set damages at $40 million in the wrongful death of a Long Beach pedestrian killed in 2019 by a speeding CHP motorcycle officer with an eye ailment that distorted his vision.

An attorney for the family of Cezannie Mount, 24, said Friday that retired Officer Alfredo Gutierrez had reported his eye condition to his superiors but was not removed from motorcycle duty.

“This family has waited 4 1/2 years to find out what happened to their son and the CHP buried the truth,” said attorney Annee Della Donna, who represented the family with attorney Eric Dubin. “(Gutierrez) had no business being on that motorcycle. He couldn’t see.”

While a focal point in the wrongful death lawsuit, Gutierrez’s eye condition was not known to prosecutors and jurors when he was tried in May 2023 on a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter. The trial ended in a hung jury and Long Beach prosecutors decided not to retry the case.

In the lawsuit filed by Mount’s family, Della Donna and Dubin found Gutierrez’s eye problem while scouring through his medical records. Della Donna accused the California Highway Patrol of not investigating the role that Gutierrez’s ailing eye played in the early morning accident.

“When they came upon the scene, all they saw was an injured officer and a dead young black man … and all they cared about was clearing the officer,” she said.

A CHP official reached late Friday in Sacramento declined comment on the jury verdict.

Gutierrez was riding to work when he hit Mount on Oct. 27, 2019, at 4:40 a.m. on Del Amo Boulevard near Cherry Avenue. Mount was walking along the street median. Gutierrez was said to be traveling at nearly 70 mph in a 40-mph zone.

Although the accident occurred within Long Beach city limits, the CHP arrived and took over the investigation.

Partial medical records reviewed by the Southern California News Group showed that days before the crash, Gutierrez went to a hospital emergency room complaining of distorted vision in one eye. The diagnosis was central serous chorioretinopathy, which can cause temporary vision impairment because of a buildup of fluids beneath the retina.

Gutierrez had complained in the emergency room that a “halo pattern” was affecting the vision in his left eye, according to records written by Dr. Catherine Sheils.

Gutierrez, who worked out of the South Los Angeles CHP office serving the South Bay and Long Beach, sustained serious injuries in the crash and took a medical retirement.

Della Donna said the Van Nuys jury deliberated 1 1/2 days and found Mount to be 37% negligent for walking in the street, so the $40 million award will likely be reduced to $25 million. She said jurors found the CHP and Gutierrez liable for the lion’s share of the fault.

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“This officer was racing down a 40-mph neighborhood street. There was no rush to get to work,” she said. “It showed a complete lack of responsibility by the officer and the CHP.”

Della Donna also noted that the CHP denied culpability. “The jury disagreed. And disagreed 40 million dollars worth,” she said.

Mount had a lot to look forward to at the time of his death. He played basketball at Long Beach Poly High School and was an aspiring hip-hop artist, his family has said. After earning a degree in music from Earlham College in Indiana, he had returned home and was working at Raising Cane’s restaurant in Lakewood to pay for studio time to make music.

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