City ordered to pay $5.7 million in police shooting
Joel Rubin (Los Angeles Times) | September 21, 2012
A jury Friday ordered the city of Los Angeles to pay $5.7 million to a man who was shot and paralyzed by police after he fled the scene of a gang shooting.
Although the payout, which could reach about $6.5 million if the city is ordered to pay attorney’s fees, was far less than what city officials had been told to expect, it was more than what the city needed to pay in the case: In April, the City Council rejected a proposed settlement deal that would have paid Robert Contreras $4.5 million.
The jury’s decision compensates the 26-year-old Contreras for injuries he suffered one night in September 2005, when several officers on patrol in South L.A. responded to a report of a nearby shooting. As they arrived, witnesses pointed to a white van speeding away and said people inside the vehicle had let off a volley of gunfire while driving by. After a brief pursuit, the three men in the van jumped out and scattered.
Officer Mario Flores and Det. Julio Benavides, also a police officer at the time, chased Contreras into a dark driveway. When Contreras allegedly turned toward them with an object in his hand, the officers opened fire, hitting him multiple times in the side and back. Contreras had been holding a cellphone. The officers told investigators afterward they had seen a gun in Contreras’ hand as he bolted, but an extensive search of the area found no weapon.
Contreras, who was left a near-quadriplegic with some use of his arms, was convicted in 2009 for his role in the drive-by shooting and sentenced to seven years in state prison. Released on parole last year, he filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming the officers used excessive force and violated his civil rights.
During the February trial, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson did not allow lawyers for the city to tell jurors several pieces of information, including the fact that Contreras had been convicted in the drive-by, that he was a known gang member and that one of the other men in the van had told investigators Contreras exited the vehicle armed with a gun, according to records obtained by The Times.
Tags: gang shooting, lapd, OIS, paralyzed victim, police settlement, Robert Contreras