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Judge Slashes $1.1-Million Award to Officer’s Family

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Calling a $1.1-million jury verdict “shocking,” a Superior Court judge this week reduced by $500,000 the amount awarded to the parents of a Torrance police officer killed during a confrontation in front of a sporting goods store.

Judge J. Kimball Walker on Monday gave Max and Eleanor Keller, parents of Officer Tom Keller, until Sept. 9 to decide whether to accept the reduced award or go forward with a second trial to determine damages.

“The judge concluded that the amount of the judgment was clearly a result of passion and not a result of proper deliberation by the jury,” said Nathan B. Hoffman, who defended the now-defunct Torrance Sport Shop in the case. “I was shocked by the amount of the award. It was outrageous beyond reason. . . . We still maintain that my clients, while they are upset and saddened by what happened, were not responsible for the death of Officer Keller.”

A Norwalk Superior Court jury deliberated two days in June before awarding the Goleta couple $1.1 million for their 25-year-old son’s death April 17, 1986.

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Keller was shot by Rafael Hernandez Navarro, a 22-year-old transient, during a standoff with police. Navarro had burst into the shop waving a pistol and demanding ammunition. During the ensuing police siege, he grabbed an M-1 carbine fitted with a 20-round clip and began firing at officers outside the store.

After a long standoff, officers found Navarro dead inside the store. He had apparently committed suicide with the M-1 rifle.

Attorney Browne Greene, who represented the Kellers, argued that the store should be held liable for the officer’s death because the M-1 was not locked away and because store managers, who watched on a closed-circuit television monitor as Navarro grabbed the rifle, did not warn police about it.

Hoffman, who said the M-1 was available for store security purposes, argued that only Navarro could be held responsible for Keller’s death. He also sought to invoke California’s “fireman’s rule,” which prevents firefighters and police officers from collecting damages when they are injured on duty.

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Greene said it is as yet unclear whether the Kellers will accept the reduced award of $625,000.

Hoffman said his clients will probably appeal if the Kellers decide to accept the amount.


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