SALT LAKE CITY — A Los Angeles attorney famed for his defense of pop star Michael Jackson and other celebrities is representing a Centerville woman in a lawsuit over a life insurance claim. The claim was denied after her husband was shot to death by police.
Mark Geragos filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Salt Lake City U.S. District Court on behalf of Molly Farrand against Texas-based American General Life Insurance Co., which refused to pay out a $500,000 claim. Vincent Farrand, her husband, took the policy in 2011, three years before he was killed in a confrontation with Centerville officers on April 13, 2014.
Geragos has defended several high-profile entertainers in criminal cases. He’s perhaps best known for representing singer Michael Jackson on child sexual abuse charges. Jackson was acquitted in a 2005 trial.
Geragos also has represented newsmakers such as actress Winona Ryder, reality TV star Nicole Richie, former Whitewater partner Susan McDougal, NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield and hip hop artists Nathaniel "Nate Dogg" Hale and Sean Combs. He’s currently defending singer Chris Brown against gun and drug charges.
Farrand first filed a civil rights suit against Centerville City and the officer who fired the fatal shots, Jason Read. The $2 million suit filed on March 24, 2016, alleged Read “executed” her husband by shooting him twice in the back outside the couple’s home. In a settlement announced July 1, the city paid Farrand $127,000 in damages.
Although it settled, the city did not admit fault. American General’s Aug. 18, 2014, letter to Molly Farrand said it was denying the life insurance claim because Vincent Farrand “was suicidal and wanted ‘suicide by cop.’” The letter also quoted the police investigation report that said an autopsy found the man had a 0.21 blood alcohol content.
In Farrand’s new suit, her attorneys criticize the suicide-by-cop rationale. For it to justify denying the claim, “they would have to make the untenable argument that when interacting with law enforcement — even with a gun, considering that Utah is an ‘open carry’ state — the expected and anticipated result is the police officer shooting the suspect,” the suit said. “Utah law is clear that Utahans have a lawful right to ‘open carry’ weapons, especially on one’s own property.”
Further, it is “irrational and unreasonable” that the claim should be denied because Vincent Farrand was intoxicated, the suit said. Utah law is clear that provisions that limit or exclude coverage should be strictly construed in favor of the insured, the suit said.
The suit accused American General of failing to adequately investigate the insurance claim, relying solely on the police investigation report and ignoring subsequent developments, such as the city paying a settlement to Molly Farrand, the suit said.
The suit demands at least $500,000 in damages from American General.
Efforts to contact the company were not immediately successful. Lawyers to represent the company against the civil suit had not been identified in court documents as of Thursday afternoon. American General’s business is now controlled by conglomerate AIG, American International Group, according to AIG’s website.
Geragos’s local colleague on the suit, Robert Cummings of Salt Lake City, did not immediately return a phone call Thursday, Sept. 22.
In response to Molly Farrand’s civil suit against the city, Centerville attorneys argued Vincent Farrand was told several times by officers to drop a handgun he was carrying. As Farrand walked toward a gate to the backyard, he was “still holding the gun in his hand at his side and mumbling something to the effect of, ‘Shoot me. You’re going to have to shoot me,’” the document said.
Molly Farrand argued her husband was attempting to put the gun down when Read opened fire.
Heather White, an attorney who represented the city in the case, said the settlement “was reached as a result of the city’s insurance carrier’s opinion that it was less expensive and in the taxpayers’ interest to settle rather than engage in a long and expensive legal fight.”
City officials agreed the settlement would be in the best interests of the city’s taxpayers, White said.
“The settlement in no way should be construed that the officer involved was at fault,” she said. “If Mr. Farrand had dropped his gun as the officer directed, the outcome would have been very different.”