Los Angeles is set to pay nearly $ 1.6 million to settle three lawsuits relating to alleged wrongdoing by the Los Angeles Police Department, including a payment of $ 1.15 million for the shooting of a man from an LAPD helicopter.
City council voted 12-1 Wednesday to approve the payments, with Councilor Joe Buscaino casting the only dissenting vote.
The LAPD and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the regulations, which allow the city to resolve claims without admitting liability.
These cases are part of a larger phenomenon: Over the past five and a half years or so, Los Angeles has spent more than $ 245 million to resolve disputes involving the police department – more than a third of the total amount. city liability payments during this period. , according to a Times analysis of the city’s archives.
Two of the council trials on Wednesday stemmed from fatal shootings by police.
Anthony Soderberg’s mother sued the department for the murder of her son, who was shot and killed by SWAT members after a long standoff at a Sunland house he had broken into. Police fired dozens of shots at Soderberg, some from a SWAT helicopter, a first in LAPD history.
A report on the shooting filed with the Los Angeles Police Commission revealed that Soderberg posed a threat when he armed himself with a pistol and fired at the helicopter in the air, but he was unarmed when he left the house and was shot by officers.
The commission found that officers opened fire on Soderberg when they were not in imminent danger or were too far away to see a threat. Twelve of the officers used deadly force in a way that broke departmental rules, the panel found.
When the commission made the decision, the Los Angeles Police Protective League said it was “extremely disappointed,” saying the officers “had only used appropriate force to protect their own lives and the lives of civilians on the ground. ground”.
In the trial, Soderberg’s family argued that the police knew he was “a mentally ill and / or mentally disabled person with no intention of harming anyone”.
After officers fired tear gas into Sunland’s house to force him out, Soderberg emerged “crawling, struggling, breathless and unarmed,” the lawsuit said.
Greg Kirakosian, lawyer for Soderberg’s family, called the settlement a “good resolution.”
Kirakosian said the discovery phase of the case, where evidence is collected and produced by both parties, had already ended when SWAT Sgt. Last summer, Tim Colomey filed his separate lawsuit against the whistleblowers, alleging that SWAT leaders were turning a blind eye to a “culture of violence” in which lethal force was glorified.
Colomey’s trial did not identify any specific incidents, but his lawyers told The Times they understood three incidents he previously reported – including Soderberg’s case. Kirakosian asked the judge presiding over the family’s trial to reopen the find so that he could examine the “SWAT mafia” allegations.
Kirakosian said that when the judge agreed and said the lawyer can file Colomey, the city came to the table to sort out the issue. Colomey has never been dismissed in this affair.
Before reaching the settlement, city lawyers largely denied the lawsuit allegations and argued that it should be dismissed, court records show.
Council members also approved a $ 295,000 payment in a trial for the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Carnell Snell Jr., whose murder sparked public outcry and protests. Snell was shot dead in 2016 after fleeing a traffic stop in southern LA
After residents disputed the LAPD account of what had happened, the department released a video showing Snell holding a gun as he fled from police. The police board decided a police officer was right to shoot Snell.
Community activists countered that just because Snell was seen carrying a gun didn’t mean he pointed it at the police. His mother’s lawsuit argued that Snell “did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to anyone at the time of the shooting.” The prosecution also alleged that it took a long time for the police to call for medical attention for Snell.
Before reaching the settlement, the city argued that the force used against Snell was “reasonable and necessary in the defense of others,” according to a court record.
Attorney Dale K. Galipo, who represented Snell’s mother, said she wanted closure and added that it had been difficult to bring in witnesses to counter police accounts.
“It was one of the reasons we settled in,” Galipo said.
In the third case, council members approved a payment of up to $ 145,000 to settle allegations that children were forced to punch each other at a “character construction camp” run by the LAPD for children from 6 to 12 years old. allegations of abuse, the camp was closed indefinitely in 2019, according to the lawsuit filed by the parents.
The lawsuit also alleged that a camp volunteer abused children who were not fluent in English, claiming that they and their parents should be deported from the United States and threatening to have them take extra turns. they didn’t pronounce the English words to his liking.
The camp was part of the LAPD’s Jeopardy gang intervention program.
The city has denied the abuse allegations. The money for the settlement approved by city council on Wednesday will be split equally between the two minors who reported the alleged mistreatment to their parents, according to court records.
The Windsor Troy law firm, which represented the parents, said in a statement that the racism and violence in the program was “an unacceptable betrayal of trust” and expressed “hope that the department takes the necessary action. to make incidents like this a thing. the past.”
Buscaino spokesman Branimir Kvartuc said the city councilor opposed the settlement in the LAPD camp case due to insufficient evidence. Buscaino, who is running for mayor, also opposed Snell’s settlement because the shooting was deemed “in politics” and voted against the Soderberg settlement because he had previously backed a settlement offer. lower, Kvartuc said.
LA’s financial tab for LAPD-related legal payments includes settlements in cases brought by citizens against the police, but also by police officers against the department. It also includes jury verdicts in cases where settlements have not been reached.
In June, the city agreed to pay nearly $ 1 million to settle excessive force complaints against an officer who shot a group of teenagers in 2015, injuring 15-year-old Jamar Nicholson.
In December, the city agreed to pay an LAPD lieutenant $ 700,000 after city lawyers concluded his superiors had demoted him without just cause.
And in March, the city agreed to pay $ 1.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a police detective who claimed he was assaulted and blackmailed by a colleague.
Legal settlements can take years to negotiate, resulting in large payments from the city long after the underlying incidents. After a tumultuous 2020, the city could be faced with large payments in the years to come.
The LAPD and the city are currently facing a mountain of lawsuits related to the handling of mass protests in the summer of 2020, including for its handling of those arrested and its use of hard foam projectiles, batons and others. weapons against demonstrators. Los Angeles has been forced to shell out tens of millions of dollars for similar lawsuits in the past.