An attorney representing a 15-year-old boy who was mistakenly shot and injured by a Los Angeles police officer earlier this year announced Wednesday that he has filed a $20-million claim against the city on behalf of his client.
Jamar Nicholson, 15, and three of his friends were standing in a South L.A. alley before school on Feb. 10 when two officers assigned to the LAPD's criminal gang-homicide unit approached the group of four with guns drawn.
The LAPD said one of the teenagers was holding what the officers thought was a gun, prompting one of the officers to fire.
Nicholson, a high school freshman, was struck in the upper back. What the officers thought was a real gun in fact had a small orange tip, indicating it was a fake.
Attorney John W. Harris, who is representing Nicholson and another teenager who was in the group that day, told reporters Wednesday that the teens posed no threat to themselves or others and that the officers "displayed callous disregard" for their well-being.
"The LAPD shot first and then asked questions later," Harris said.
A claim is a legal precursor to a civil lawsuit. Harris said if the city rejects the claim, he planned to file suit.
Nicholson and his friend, 17-year-old Jason Huerta, both said they were rattled by the shooting. Nicholson lamented missing school while recovering from his wounds, and said he still has nightmares. Huerta described the incident as "traumatizing."
"I see a cop and I get nervous," he said. "I've never really looked at police in a certain way, until that day."
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman, said the department's investigation into the incident was ongoing. The officer who fired -- identified has Miguel Gutierrez, who has been with the LAPD since 2002 -- has returned to full duties, Smith said.
Smith declined to comment on the case or the statements made by Harris and the teenagers.
"We're going to allow the investigation to be completed before we make any comments on that," he said.
The teens said they were rapping and dancing in the alley, near 10th Street and Florence Avenue, on the morning of Feb. 10 -- part of their normal routine before school, they said. They said they even knew the people who lived nearby, affectionately calling one woman "Mama" because they saw her so often.
The teens had never been approached by police in the alley before, they said.
But on the morning of Feb. 10, the teenagers said, two men ran toward them and started shooting. Nicholson said he thought the men were Mormons -- whom he's seen riding bikes in the area -- because of their dress shirts and ties.
It wasn't until Huerta told him there was a hole in his shirt, Nicholson said, that he felt the pain of the bullet.
The LAPD has said that the two officers were following up on a homicide investigation when they glanced down the alley and spotted what looked like someone pointing a gun at another person. Police officials said Gutierrez opened fire after the person did not follow commands to drop the weapon.
Nicholson was standing next to the teen who held the replica gun. None of the other teenagers was injured.
Harris and the teenagers disputed the police account, saying the toy gun was at the teenager's side, not being pointed at someone in the group. They also said that the officers gave no warning before shots were fired.
After the morning press conference, Nicholson and Huerta walked with reporters to the spot in the alley where they first heard the gunshots. Nicholson admitted it felt "weird" being back.
The teens said they had never been in trouble with the police before. "You can check our records," Huerta insisted.
"That's a bad way to meet officers," Nicholson said. His friend nodded.
"Got off on the wrong foot," Huerta said.
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