Two Los Angeles police officers restricted to desk jobs in the five years since one of them fatally shot an unarmed, autistic man are victims of racial discrimination and retaliation and collectively deserve $5 million in damages, their attorney said Tuesday, but a lawyer for the city said the officers’ damage claim is “outrageous.”
The lawsuit filed by Officers George Diego and Allan Corrales stems from work conditions imposed by Chief Charlie Beck in the aftermath of the March 20, 2010, shooting death of 27-year-old Steven Eugene Washington in the 800 block of South Vermont Avenue.
Corrales, who was still in the passenger seat of a patrol car when he fired at Washington, testified that the man had his hands in his waistband and then lunged toward him with one arm.
The officers’ lawyer, Gregory W. Smith, alleges that Diego and Corrales are being unduly punished because they are two Latino officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black man. He contends their discipline was politically driven by race.
“If they were black officers, they would be back in the field,” Smith told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury in his closing argument.
Instead, the officers have been “benched” since the shooting, denied overtime and promotions and told they cannot take jobs outside the LAPD that require them to be armed, Smith said.
Corrales testified that he was offered a security job at Dodger Stadium and that he needs the additional money in addition to his $96,000 annual salary to support his family and other relatives.
Smith said the officers’ fates were sealed when they sued the city in November 2012.
“Beck believes that because they sued the department on this date, they’re not expressing the proper remorse,” Smith said. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is retaliation.”
But Deputy City Attorney Daniel Aguilera said it would be wrong to award $5 million to two officers who did not follow their LAPD training about when to use or not use deadly force.
“These officers used very poor tactics,” Aguilera said in his closing remarks. “This is outrageous.”
Diego drove the patrol so near to Washington that the officers had little chance to take cover and assess the situation before Corrales shot Washington, Aguilera said.
“They should never have been that close,” Aguilera said.
Aguilera denied any racial discrimination occurred. He said both men have been treated the same as any other officer in their situation and noted that Latinos make up the majority of the sworn and civilian LAPD work force.
Aguilera said both men can continue to apply for new desk jobs and advance that way within the LAPD until the chief feels comfortable in returning them to field duty.
Both Corrales and Diego were assigned at the time to the Olympic Division gang detail. Diego testified that both officers were nearing the end of their shifts and when they saw Washington walking north on Vermont before the confrontation. Diego said he fired one shot after getting out of the car, but the bullet missed Washington.
Although Beck found that the use of deadly force by Corrales was justified, the Police Commission still concluded the officers’ actions were wrong, in particular Corrales’ use of lethal force in alleged violation of LAPD policy.
Beck then issued reprimands and has kept work restrictions against the two officers in effect, but they continue to receive their full salaries and benefits.
Corrales, 35, and Diego, 34, each have about 12 years of service with the LAPD.
Washington’s family sued the city and the two sides reached a settlement.
— City News Service