L.A. Considers $4.5 Million Settlement For Controversial Shooting
People across the nation jumped to their feet, outraged by the shooting of unarmed Trayvon Martin. One month later, the shooting of unarmed Kendrec McDade in Pasadena also got the nation’s attention and sympathy. Now in Los Angeles, another unarmed victim who became partially paralyzed after being shot in 2005 is looking to receive $4.5 million settlement for damages. But how will people react when they learn he was also a gang member and an accessory in a drive-by shooting?
Robert Contreras was 19 years old when he was involved in a police chase that left him paralyzed from the waist down and with limited use of his arms. He had driven away in a van after participating in a drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles – which he was later convicted of in 2009 – and then he and two others left the van, taking off on foot. Two officers reported seeing him with a gun and fired on him multiple times, according to the Southern California City News Service.
Contreras had been holding a cell phone and no gun was ever found, but an internal police review supported the officers’ decision to shoot. In a February 2011 lawsuit, Contreras’s attorney Carmen Trutanich argued that the shooting was “excessive and unreasonable” and that it violated Contreras’s civil right to a reasonable search and seizure, which is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
The jury had ruled unanimously in favor of Contreras, leaving a tough decision for the City Council next week when members consider whether to accept the proposed settlement.
Even though it seems the stage is set for Contreras to win the appeal, a jury could rule in the city’s favor when certain information comes to light, said Jeremy Oberstein, a press secretary for the California State Assembly, in a phone interview. In the 2011 proceedings, the judge placed restrictions on certain evidence, forbidding the jury from hearing certain pieces of information that he felt would taint the case. This information includes the fact that Contreras was a gang member, that he served prison time for the drive-by and that testimonies from a friend and cellmate said he did indeed have a gun at the time of the shooting.
If the city does choose to challenge the proposed $4.5 million settlement, the evidence could help sway a jury. Even if the city doesn’t convince the jury, it’s very possible – if not likely – the case will go to the ninth court of appeals.
There is still some question, however, whether the city will in fact challenge the settlement. The $4.5 million is a sizable amount, double that of other recent high profile cases, Oberstein said. Lawmakers may decide to air on the side of caution and accept the settlement out of concern that the amount could increase if an appeal is unsuccessful. Originally, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had expressed support for the settlement but has since joined LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other council members in their opposition of the settlement, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The head of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, Councilman Paul Krekorian said there’s no way he would support the settlement.
“It would be a cold day in hell when I would be supportive of giving a boatload of money to somebody who is involved in shooting at the citizens of Los Angeles,'' Councilman Krekorian said in a statement. “I just think it's fundamentally wrong.''
The City Council will announce its decision next Tuesday but the Southern California Public Radio reported that in order to shoot down the settlement, it will need a majority approval.
Reach staff reporter Karla Robinson here.