Two Los Angeles police officers have been awarded nearly $4 million after suing the LAPD alleging discrimination and retaliation after the fatal shooting of an unarmed, autistic man in 2010.
After deliberating for nearly three days, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury ruled in favor of Officers Allan Corrales, 35, and George Diego, 34. Corrales was awarded more than $2 million and Diego $1.9 million.
The autistic man’s mother received $950,000 as part of a settlement in 2012 after she filed a claim against the city.
The mother’s attorney, Brian Dunn, said he was surprised by the decision to award the officers damages, saying “there is nothing at all justified about this shooting.”
Steven Washington, he said, was shot in the face by Corrales.
“It was one of the worst shootings we have seen,” Dunn said. “They took the life of an unarmed, autistic man for no reason whatsoever.”
Gregory W. Smith, the attorney for the officers, said the jury’s verdict shows there are much larger issues that need to be addressed: Officers need more training on how to handle people with mental illness, and those suffering with mental illness need more protection and support.
“You don’t fix the problem by blaming two people for what they were trained to do,” said Smith, who also has a child with autism.
Smith believes the legal battle over this case will probably continue.
The Los Angeles city attorney is reviewing the verdict and is “exploring the city’s options going forward,” spokesman Frank Mateljan said. The LAPD said in a statement it was working with the city attorney’s office.
In the suit, which was filed in 2012, the officers alleged they repeatedly faced discrimination and retaliation within the department because they are Latino and the slain man, Washington, 27, was black. Corrales and Diego said they made requests to return to the field but were allegedly denied and also passed over for promotions and transfers.
During the trial, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the officers were given desk jobs after the fatal shooting because they were unfit to work in the field and not because of their race.
The officers, he said, made serious tactical errors during their encounter with Washington. But Beck said the shooting was justified because they feared for their lives.
The civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, however, found the officers violated the department’s use-of-force policy and that the shooting was unreasonable.
"I do not have confidence in their ability to perform the duties of a field officer," Beck said. "I have no immediate intention of returning them to the field."
Smith said during the trial a white officer testified that he had shot an unarmed Latino and was allowed to return to field work after a six-week probation.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the white officer was allowed to return to work after a six-month probation.
Washington was unarmed and not involved in criminal activity when he was shot and killed in March 2010 in Koreatown.
The officers drove up slowly behind Washington, who was walking alone on the sidewalk just after midnight.
Corrales told investigators that Washington appeared to reach for his waistband for what the officer believed was a weapon, according to the department's internal review of the incident.
Corrales, who was in the passenger seat, fired once, striking Washington in the head. Diego exited the vehicle, fired and missed, the review said. Corrales and Diego worked in an anti-gang unit.
No weapon was found, but authorities said the officers feared for their lives because Washington did not respond to commands.
Smith said a video of the shooting showed Washington turning violently at the officers.
After the shooting, Washington’s relatives and the American Civil Liberties Union called on the LAPD for more information to justify the shooting.
“You put officers on the streets to do a job, but they are not social workers,” Smith said, adding that officers then “get blamed for making spot decisions.”
“The bigger issue is what can we do to train our officers to be able to determine whether someone has mental illness,” he said.
Times staff writer Stephen Ceasar contributed to this report.
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