The family of an unarmed man killed by a Downey police officer with a submachine gun in a case of mistaken identity has agreed to a $4.5-million settlement with the city's insurer.
Michael Nida, 31, was fatally shot in the back Oct. 22, 2011, by Officer Steven Gilley after Nida was mistaken for a suspect wanted in an armed robbery at a
Prosecutors decline to criminally charge the officer, citing Nida's resistance and running from officers three times.
Nida's family and their attorneys said the settlement was agreed upon by lawyers for Downey's municipal insurer last week on the eve of a trial for a wrongful-death and civil-rights lawsuit.
"We have mixed feelings about the settlement. We would have loved to hear a guilty verdict by a jury but had to weigh the pros and cons of settling vs. going to trial," said Nida's sister, Terri Teramura. "We didn't want to subject Michael's young children to the nightmare of having to relive that horrible night over and over again."
For more than a year, Nida's family has regularly protested at City Hall, forming a group called Nida's Ryders. Teramura said no amount of money would bring her brother back.
"Money is not justice," she said. "But Downey will pay to support Michael's children, since they took away their provider."
Brian Claypool, who along with Dale Galipo represented the family, said the settlement was the largest he been involved with prior to trial.
"Given the circumstances, they knew this case could cost a lot more with a jury given the facts and other recent verdicts," Claypool said.
Galipo recently secured an $8.8-million verdict against Culver City in a police shooting. He and Claypool also secured $6.5 payment from Long Beach in a case in which officers mistook a water-hose spray pistol for a gun.
Downey officials said any proposed settlement needs a judge's approval and noted that the attorney for its insurer made the settlement decision.
In a statement, the city said, "The insurance risk pool's decisions for this matter are beyond the city's control."
City officials noted that a Los Angeles district attorney's office report found that Gilley's actions were legal.
"The city invites anyone who is interested in the real facts to review the report," they said.
Last fall, prosecutor Stephanie Sparagna wrote that Nida repeatedly resisted arrest and ran from police three times. He also ignored warnings from police, including one from the officer that he would "blow his head off" if Nida did not show his hands.
Sparagna said Nida was shot from a distance of 20 feet and hit in the back and leg. She said police can use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon when the suspect may pose a deadly or serious threat to officers or others.
Sparagna found that Gilley reasonably feared that Nida was armed and dangerous. It was later determined Nida was not the robbery suspect nor was he armed.
"Given the rapidly evolving, dangerous situation that confronted Officer Gilley, we conclude that Officer Steven Gilley was justified in using deadly force to prevent Nida's escape," she wrote.
Police detained Nida after seeing him running across a street as they searched for the robbery suspects, described as black males with dark clothing.
Nida, 31, was of white and Puerto Rican descent. The father of four was getting gasoline with his wife on their way to dinner. He had run across Imperial Highway to get cigarettes and was detained as he came out of the tobacco shop.
Initially he cooperated, but then "suddenly and inexplicably" he ran from officers, prosecutors said. Officers reported that he hopped fences and eluded them. Within 10 minutes, Gilley and another officer detained Nida in an alley behind a Walgreens.
Gilley ordered Nida to show his hands, and when he did not, Gilley said he feared the suspect had a weapon, the prosecutor wrote.
Seconds later, Nida "actively resisted arrest when he jumped up from a prone position on the ground, forcing Gilley to his knees" and ran again from the officers, according to a declination by prosecutors.
The officers, according to the prosecutor, did not have a chance to search Nida before he ran.
"Believing Nida was armed and dangerous, Gilley fired one three-round burst from his MP5, killing Nida," Sparagna wrote. The MP5 is a submachine gun.
Teramura said the family now wants the
"He shot a defenseless man in the back," she said.
The family, she said, knows the pain that families suffer in police shootings, and they are now helping others.
"Nida's Rydas is still very active in reaching out to other families who been thrust into this nightmare because of rogue, killer cops," she said.