Inglewood to pay $2.45 million to settle claim in 2008 police shooting death

By Andrew Blankstein (LA Times)
March 23, 2010

Inglewood will pay $2.45 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought the families of three men who were shot, one of them fatally, by police officers who mistakenly believed gunfire was coming from the vehicle the three were riding in, according to a tentative settlement.

Michael Byoune died from his wounds, and driver Larry White and passenger Chris Larkin were injured in the shooting by Inglewood officers on May 11, 2008 (Mother’s Day) outside a Rally’s restaurant. Jacqueline Seabrooks, chief of the 190-member police department, described the incident at the time as “a very tragic outcome.”

Carl Douglas, an attorney representing the victims and their families, said he was pleased by the settlement, adding that it brought “some measure of justice” to the victims. “Three young men who had done absolutely nothing wrong had their lives changed forever,” he said.

“No amount of money will ever bring back Michael Byoune to his family, but hopefully, through his death, the city will make changes that will help all of the citizens of our community,” Douglas said. “For that reason, his death will not be in vain.”

Inglewood spokesman Ed Maddox confirmed the tentative settlement “pending the completion of final documents.”

The Byoune case was the first in series of fatal shootings of unarmed suspects that year that drew community rebuke and calls for reform. leading to an inquiry by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review and to changes in training at the police department. Most significantly, the U.S. Justice Department launched a civil rights probe. Federal officials told the city they are continuing with their probe and plan close scrutiny of specific incidents.

On July 1, 2008, Ruben Walton Ortega, a 23-year-old alleged gang member, was shot and killed by an Inglewood officer when police said he reached into his waistband as he ran from an officer. Police said at the time that the officer believed Ortega was armed. Seabrooks later said he was not.

Three weeks later, police shot and killed Kevin Wicks, 38, on July 21 after officers said Wicks raised a gun at Officer Brian Ragan, who was responding to a report of a family disturbance at Wicks’ apartment complex. Ragan was one of two officers involved in the Byoune shooting.

Then on Aug. 31, 2008, police shot and killed of Eddie Felix Franco, a 56-year-old homeless man who had a realistic-looking toy gun in his waistband. Officers fired at least 47 rounds at Franco when he appeared to reach for the gun. A nearby motorist was struck and grazed in the head by one of the bullets.

A Times investigation, published more than two months before the federal inquiry began, found that Inglewood officers repeatedly resorted to physical or deadly force against unarmed suspects. According to law enforcement records reviewed by The Times, Inglewood police shot and killed 11 people, five of them unarmed, between 2003 and 2009.

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