The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay nearly $6.9 million to resolve an excessive force lawsuit filed by a man who was left paralyzed after police shot him as he fled the scene of a gang shooting in South Los Angeles.
The U.S. Supreme Court in December upheld a jury’s 2012 judgment that the city of Los Angeles pay $5.7 million to Robert Contreras. The $6.9 million payout approved by the City Council Wednesday includes attorneys’ fees and accrued interest.
The jury’s award was meant to compensate Contreras for injuries he suffered during the Sept. 3, 2005, shooting, which left him a near-quadriplegic with some use of his arms.
Several officers on patrol responded to a report of gunfire, with witnesses pointing to a speeding white van whose occupants were firing shots. After a brief pursuit, the three men inside the vehicle jumped out and scattered.
Two police officers chased Contreras into a dark driveway. They said they opened fire, wounding him in the side and back, when he turned toward them with an object in his hand.
Contreras turned out to be holding a cell phone, but officers told investigators afterward they had seen a gun in his hand. An extensive search of the area turned up no weapon.
After being convicted for his role in the drive-by shooting and serving several years of prison time, he filed a federal lawsuit alleging the officers used excessive force and violated his civil rights. A jury unanimously decided in favor of Contreras in 2012, when he was 26 years old.
City officials have long disputed the jury’s decision, with the City Council previously rejecting a $4.5 million proposed settlement offered by Contreras’ attorney.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said in 2012 that the jury was not told that Contreras was a known gang member and that he pleaded no contest to attempted murder for the drive-by shooting that prompted the police to chase him.
The jury also was not informed that a cellmate claimed he heard Contreras admit he had a gun and threw it away, that he had been inside a van with other armed shooters during the drive-by; and that experts found the police tactics and the officers’ psychological responses were reasonable, according to Beck.
— Wire reports
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