A Los Angeles Superior Court jury Friday awarded $2.4 million to the family of a Muslim college student and father of four who was slain by a California Highway patrolman after a routine traffic stop.
The jury, which deliberated for six days, awarded no punitive damages because it did not find malice on the part of Officer Bruce Moats, who shot motorist Yusuf Bilal three times in the back.
“We can go on with our lives now,” said Bilal’s father, Jimmie Johnson, wiping tears from his eyes.
As the verdicts were read, Bilal’s brother, Robert Johnson, sat in Judge Stephen Lachs’ courtroom and wrote down the financial information on a yellow legal pad. His dead brother’s 4-year-old daughter sat on his lap.
Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Eric Ferrer, the family’s attorneys, said Friday they will ask the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to reopen a criminal investigation into the slaying and will ask the U.S. Justice Department to conduct an inquiry into whether Bilal’s civil rights were violated.
Four years ago, the district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Moats. The investigation concluded that the officer believed he was in serious personal danger when he fired at the motorist.
California Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas Blake, who defended Moats, said that he had not yet decided if the verdict will be appealed.
“We are thankful that the jury found no malice on the part of Officer Moats,” Blake said.
Before going to trial, the family had turned down a $1.2-million cash settlement from the state.
At the time of his death in 1986, the 38-year-old Bilal was an RTD bus driver and Cal State Los Angeles graduate student who planned to open an Islamic textbook printing business. He was on his way home after noon prayers at a mosque when he ran a red light in South-Central Los Angeles and was pulled over by Moats.
Moats, a 13-year CHP veteran who had never fired his handgun in the line of duty before, testified that Bilal refused to give his address and would not get out of the car.
The officer also said Bilal swung at him, took away his baton and threatened to kill him as he got out of the car. Moats said he aimed at his chest, but the motorist spun around, taking bullets in the back.
As Bilal lay dying, Moats stood nearby and was heard to say: “The stupid son of a bitch. All for a traffic ticket.”
During the trial, witnesses gave conflicting testimony. Some said Bilal’s back was to the officer, others said he was sideways. Only Moats testified that he heard Bilal threaten to kill him.
Two police consultants asked by the plaintiffs to review the case testified that the shooting was not justified. Another said that shooting was called for because, once Moats lost the baton, his only recourse to protect himself was his revolver.
Jury members later said that it took them more than four days just to decide what a human life is worth.
Cochran had asked them to award Bilal’s family $12 million.
During closing arguments, Cochran compared that figure to the recent acquisition by the Getty Museum of Van Gogh’s painting “Irises,” for $54 million. “Would you quarrel with that amount (of money) for a human life . . . when you consider the price of the painting?”