L.A. agrees to pay $1.9 million to the family of a man fatally shot by police

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay $1.9 million to the family of a man who was fatally shot by police in a Lincoln Heights apartment two years ago.

The 11-2 vote will settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the wife and children of Luis Martinez, who was shot after police say he lunged toward officers with a knife.

Attorneys representing Martinez’s family have disputed the police account, saying the 35-year-old was in a wheelchair and recovering from a broken hip — leaving him unable to stand and move toward the officers.

The lawsuit maintains that Martinez was unarmed, calling the shooting “unreasonable, unnecessary, excessive and unjustified under the law.”

Gabriel Avina, an attorney who filed the lawsuit, said the $1.9 million was insufficient to account for the family’s loss. But, he said, families often opt to settle their lawsuits rather than putting the case in a jury’s hands.

“I don’t think money will ever replace the love of a father and husband,” Avina said.

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office declined to comment.

Officers went to Martinez’s apartment April 21, 2015, after receiving a report of a man who was depressed and had stabbed himself, according to a report made public last year.

When the officers arrived, the report said, they saw Martinez sitting in a wheelchair, his shirt covered in blood. As they tried to talk to him, Martinez pulled an 8 1/2-inch knife out from under his leg.

Martinez ignored the officers’ orders to drop the knife, got out of the wheelchair and began pacing, the report said. At one point, he pressed the knife’s blade into his chest.

Officers fired at Martinez after he walked at “a fast pace” toward one of them while still holding the knife, the report said. He fell to the ground but pushed himself up and “lunged” again, the report said, prompting more gunfire.

The Police Commission ruled last year that the officers were justified in using deadly force.

But the civilian oversight panel agreed with Chief Charlie Beck that some of the officers’ tactics were flawed. Commissioners noted that the officers didn’t plan how to respond beforehand or communicate effectively as the encounter unfolded.

The officers also left their Tasers in their cars, the panel said, leaving them without a less-lethal device.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former LAPD officer, was one of two votes against the settlement. Councilman Mitch Englander was initially recorded as voting in favor of the agreement, but it was later announced that he was a no vote.

Buscaino noted that both Beck and the Police Commission found the shooting within LAPD policy. The officers were trying to save Martinez from killing himself, Buscaino said, and although it ended tragically, they were doing what they were trained to do.

“How is it we’re paying?” he said. “It makes no sense to me.”

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

kate.mather@latimes.com

@katemather

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UPDATES:

11:55 a.m.: This article was updated with the announcement that Councilman Mitch Englander had voted against the settlement, making the final count 11-2.

7:05 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments from attorney Gabriel Avina and Councilman Joe Buscaino, a response from the city attorney’s office and more information about the shooting.

This article was originally published at 11:45 a.m. October 11.

The vote on settling the wrongful death lawsuit was 11-2, not 12-1 as originally reported. Councilman Mitch Englander also voted against the settlement.
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