La Jolla man sues city


A La Jolla man sued the city in federal court, claiming police colluded with private investigators to stop him on suspicion of drunken driving in 2007, so his wife could use the arrest against him in a child-custody battle, it was reported Saturday.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by John F. Steel IV, alleges false arrest, negligence, battery, excessive force and conspiracy, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Steel, a 50-year-old Type 1 diabetic, alleges police denied him medical care when his diabetes flared up during the arrest. Steel was taken to an emergency room hours later, after a nurse at the jail noticed his blood-glucose levels were four to five times the normal level, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also names Fallbrook-based Confidential Research Co., a private-investigations firm owned by Lori Brown, and two law firms representing Steel’s wife in the divorce and custody battle.

Steel, the former CEO of the San Diego biomedical firm MicroIslit, wants damages to be decided at trial.

The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment to the Union-Tribune.

According to court documents, private investigators hired by Steel’s wife were shadowing Steel on Aug. 11, 2007, as he was socializing at various La Jolla bars.

One of the investigators, Rick Bronold, called a friend and neighbor, San Diego police Sgt. Michael McCollough, and asked for his help, the lawsuit alleges.

McCollough, who was on duty, then asked Officer Gilbert Ninness to leave Pacific Beach and meet the private investigators in La Jolla about a possible drunken driver.

Ninness was told to wait for Steel to leave the bar, according to the lawsuit.

Nearly three hours later, shortly before 1 a.m., Steel injected himself with insulin and started driving his black BMW home near La Jolla Shores. Steel was pulled over near his home, with Ninness saying he failed to stop at a flashing red light.

Ninness field tested Steel for drunkenness, and Steel told him several times that he was having problems related to his diabetes and asked to be taken to a hospital or fire station, the lawsuit states.

Steel was eventually dropped off at an emergency room several hours later. A San Diego police spokeswoman would not say if the arrest had been reviewed internally. Both officers involved have retired.

Brown, the private investigator, said she had seen Steel drinking and driving recklessly earlier that night and called 911 to report him. She said she then lost him on the road; so Bronold called McCollough for help. Brown also said she saw Steel run red lights after a night of drinking a week earlier.

Ninness testified at a DMV hearing that Steel’s blood-alcohol content registered 0.1 percent on a Breathalyzer, just over the 0.08 limit.

Steel filed a claim against the city in February 2008 and, three weeks later, the City Attorney’s Office charged him with DUI.