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L.A. Will Pay $585,000 in Chokehold Death

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to pay $585,000 to settle two lawsuits filed by the family of an inmate at Van Nuys Jail who died after being subjected to a chokehold that was banned for police use.

Raul Guevara Jr., 30, of San Fernando died Jan. 22, 1984, after struggling with several police officers and a civilian jailer, who applied a “bar-arm” hold across his throat--a controversial restraint forbidden by the Police Department since 1982.

The council action authorized the lump-sum payment of $510,000 to settle the suit filed by Guevara’s widow, Piedad Guevara, 27, of Sun Valley, and four children, ages 4 through 9. Most of the money will be used to set up an annuity from which the family will receive payments totaling about $2 million during their lifetimes, said their attorney, Michael R. Mitchell.

Mitchell said the widow has agreed to the settlement.

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The council also approved a city attorney’s recommendation to offer $75,000 to settle a suit filed by Guevara’s mother and stepfather, Florenstla and Simon Hernandez, also East San Fernando Valley residents.

“We felt it was in the best economic interests of the city to settle the case,” Deputy City Atty. Philip J. Sugar said.

Guevara, a tire shop employee, was in custody on charges of receiving stolen property when he began struggling with police officers who were trying to retrieve a telephone receiver he had torn from a pay phone in his cell block.

After two darts from a Taser electric shock weapon failed to subdue Guevara, jailer Gustavo Fanfassian placed his forearm across Guevara’s throat for about five seconds, according to a police report.

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The 6-foot, 1-inch, 250-pound Guevara continued to struggle after being wrestled to the floor under the combined weight of Fanfassian and three other officers. Fanfassian then applied the chokehold a second time while handcuffs were placed on Guevara’s wrists and ankles, according to police accounts.

Guevara was being loaded onto a gurney when it was discovered that his vital signs had ceased. Efforts to revive him with cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the jail and en route to the hospital failed.

A Los Angeles Police Department review of the incident found that the chokehold was used in violation of departmental policy. No disciplinary action was taken against Fanfassian because he resigned, Cmdr. William Booth said.

The city has disputed whether a chokehold caused Guevara’s death, citing a coroner’s report that said a heart condition may have caused Guevara’s heart to stop during the struggle.

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The bar-arm hold was banned by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates after it was linked to a series of deaths over seven years. The hold renders a person unconscious by cutting off the air supply.

Los Angeles police can still use the so-called carotid hold, which is applied to a different part of the throat and cuts off the flow of blood to the brain, but only “as a last resort,” Booth said.

The department review upheld the use of the Taser, pointing out that relying solely on numbers of officers to subdue a violent suspect “would have subjected several officers to being struck with the receiver and possibly sustaining serious bodily injury.”

The review found that the Taser aimed at Guevara had malfunctioned. “In any event,” the review concluded, “sufficient personnel should have been deployed to control the suspect if the Taser device was ineffective.”

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