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UCLA settles claim by African American judge over traffic stop

EducationLaw EnforcementUCLAJustice SystemTrials and ArbitrationSocial IssuesRacism
L.A. County Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham and his attorney will receive $150,000
UCLA pledges to improve diversity training for police in wake of settlement

UCLA has agreed to pay $500,000, including $350,000 in scholarships, to settle a claim by a prominent African American judge over alleged mistreatment and racial profiling by campus police during a traffic stop last year, officials announced Friday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham, who is a former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, and his attorney will receive $150,000. An additional $350,000 will establish a scholarship fund named after Cunningham and administered by the UCLA Black Alumni Assn. for undergraduate or law students, according to a statement from both sides in the dispute.

In addition, UCLA pledged to improve diversity training for police and to hold a one-day community forum about relations between police and the public, including racial profiling.

In January, the judge filed a $10-million claim against UCLA for excessive force and racial profiling, alleging that he was "shaken, battered and bruised" in the Nov. 23, 2013, traffic stop in Westwood.

Cunningham said that the officers stopped him seconds after he left a gym, shoved him against his car, handcuffed him and locked him in the back seat of a police cruiser until a black sergeant arrived. He alleges that the only explanation for the conduct was "his African American race," and that he was not even close to university property.

In a joint statement released Friday, UCLA and Cunningham said they "have a mutual desire to use this as an opportunity to deepen understanding, raise the quality of police-community interactions and provide positive outcomes that enhance diversity and opportunity in our community."

"Both parties are eager to use this as a teachable moment that provides greater insight into important issues, increased educational opportunities and improved relations between law enforcement and the public," the statement said. "This civic-minded agreement serves the best interest of the entire community and settles the matter to the mutual satisfaction of the parties."

Carl E. Douglas, Cunningham's attorney, said he and the judge were limited by the agreement in what they could say about the case, but he noted that the settlement was reached before a possible formal lawsuit could be filed.

"I am extremely pleased that there is going to be a community day forum focusing on issues of racial profiling. I am extremely pleased that there is going to be retraining of all patrol officers for UCLA. I am extremely pleased that a portion of the settlement is being used for the education of needy students," Douglas said.

UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea said campus officials would not be able to comment beyond the formal statement.

The community forum will be held during the 2014-15 school year at UCLA Law School and will focus on "understanding diversity, bias, public engagement, racial profiling and effective strategies for ensuring equity in policing," the announcement said.

The settlement documents said that Cunningham will be invited to the session and that other civil rights experts also will be asked to speak.

Training for all UCLA police officers over the next year will emphasize "diversity, bias, public engagement and use of force," the statement said. According to the settlement, UCLA police also will take "reasonable steps" to have Cunningham's traffic citation for failing to wear a seat belt dismissed, although it noted that the final decision will be made by a traffic judge.

The scholarship fund will be named the David S. Cunningham III Scholarship for Civil Rights. Asked whether it will be reserved for African American students, Douglas said that will be decided by Cunningham and the black alumni association.

According to Cunningham's complaint, he was trying to find his registration and insurance forms in his car's glove box when a prescription bottle for high blood pressure medicine rolled out. One of the officers asked him if he was carrying drugs. Cunningham said that when he went to search his trunk for the papers, the officers, Kevin Dodd and James Kim, rushed and handcuffed him.

Cunningham, who had reviewed many cases of possible police misconduct during his time on the Police Commission, said he feared for his safety and began yelling about police brutality and demanded they call a supervisor.

In a statement after the incident, the UCLA Police Department said the matter began as a routine traffic stop and that Cunningham ignored officers' orders to stay in his car. "Despite these instructions, the driver left the vehicle — an escalating behavior that can place officers at risk," the department said at the time.

The $150,000 Cunningham and his attorney will receive comes from UC's self-insured risk program, and the scholarship money will come from other campus sources, officials said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

Twitter: @larrygordonlat

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EducationLaw EnforcementUCLAJustice SystemTrials and ArbitrationSocial IssuesRacism
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