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L.A. to Settle Battered Wives’ Suit for $199,500

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to pay $199,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by three battered wives from the San Fernando Valley, with $50,000 of the settlement going to finance shelters for battered women.

The city also agreed to keep its 7,000 police officers informed of proper procedures for handling domestic violence.

Under the settlement, the city agreed that the Police Department will treat victims of domestic violence the same as other battery victims. However, Cmdr. Bernard Parks of the Police Department’s personnel and training bureau, said such a policy already is in practice and that the settlement will not affect the handling of domestic violence cases.

But Parks said the department will distribute a new manual within 90 days detailing the procedures to all of its officers. And, under the settlement, the department also will review the procedures with field personnel every six months during station roll calls, he said.

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Double Standard Alleged

The settlement grows out of a suit filed in 1979 by San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services and the Battered Women’s Legal Counseling Clinic on behalf of three women who were Valley residents at the time.

The suit alleged that police would seek arrests in most battery cases, but applied a double standard to victims of domestic violence, leaving them unprotected.

Lora Weinroth, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, contended that, at the time the suit was filed, police would discourage battered wives from filing charges against their husbands. “They would say, ‘Oh, you’re married to the guy. Have you thought about who’s going to bring the money home to feed the family if you throw him in jail?’ ” Weinroth said. “They are no longer permitted to say that sort of thing to women.”

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In a report to the council, Deputy City Atty. Donna Weisz said: “It is our opinion that, although the express policy of the Los Angeles Police Department has always been to enforce all laws equally, domestic violence incidents have created special arrest and prosecution problems for law-enforcement personnel.

‘Inadequate Attention’

“These perceived special problems have in the past resulted in domestic violence calls for police help receiving inadequate attention. An example of this problem has been the perception by field officers that domestic violence complaints are by their nature difficult to prosecute, and therefore vigorous enforcement is unproductive and a waste of time.

“This attitude has not been limited to this city but has existed throughout the country,” Weisz said. “It is only in the last several years that police departments and prosecutors have come to recognize that vigorous enforcement of domestic violence complaints is necessary to curb this tragic problem in our society.”

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Weisz said the Police Department changed its procedures for handling cases of domestic violence after the suit was filed. She said, however, that the change was not prompted by the suit, but by new laws enacted by the Legislature.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs claimed Tuesday that their suit helped bring about many of the changes.

Plaintiff Present for Vote

The settlement calls for the city to provide $50,000 to finance battered-women’s shelters; pay $1,500 to each of the three plaintiffs--Lula Mae Thomas, Marjorie Hubbard and Deborah Harris; and pay $145,000 for their attorneys’ fees.

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Thomas, who lives in North Hollywood and is the only plaintiff still living in the Valley, was present for Tuesday’s 14-0 council vote approving the settlement. She said that, before she filed the suit, she called police more than 15 times to report beatings administered by her husband. “They never once arrested him,” she said.


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