L.A. to pay $5.2 million in wrongful imprisonment case

Los Angeles will pay $5.2 million to end a legal battle with a man whose murder conviction was tossed out.

The settlement with Reggie Cole is the latest in a string of legal payouts that are spurring the city to borrow at least $50 million to avoid dipping into its emergency reserve funds.

Cole and his friend Obie Anthony were convicted in the murder of Felipe Gonzales Angeles, who was shot to death outside a South L.A. brothel in 1994.

At trial they insisted they were innocent, and no physical evidence connected the pair to the crime. The two were later freed and both sued the city for wrongful imprisonment. Attorneys alleged that LAPD detectives had used illegal methods and concealed crucial evidence in the case.

Two years ago, the city agreed to pay more than $8 million to Anthony, though it admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.

Last week, the City Council backed a proposed offer from a mediator in the Cole case, according to city staff. A council committee then voted Monday in favor of authorizing the $5.2-million payment.

Attorney Dale Galipo, who is representing Cole, said in a statement that he was hopeful the settlement would help Cole “start the closure process.”

“Mr. Cole was deprived of his liberty for 16½ long and excruciatingly difficult years. … While the settlement of $5.2 million cannot give Mr. Cole back the years he lost while in prison, it will hopefully help him to move on from the injustice he has suffered,” a joint statement from attorneys Galipo and Vicki I. Sarmiento said.

Budget officials have projected that legal payouts will total at least $135 million this fiscal year.

The city usually budgets about $60 million annually for its legal liability fund, but it has seen a surge of costly settlements this year: In August, the City Council agreed to pay more than $200 million over the course of a decade to settle claims that it failed to provide enough apartments for people with disabilities in its publicly funded housing developments.

Last month, the council agreed to pay more than $8 million to settle lawsuits tied to fatal police shootings of unarmed men. And under a settlement reached two years ago, the city is also paying out $1.2 billion over the next three decades to resolve claims that its broken sidewalks made the city impassable to people with disabilities.

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

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