The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday followed the city attorney’s recommendations and agreed to spend almost $2 million to settle wrongful-death suits filed by the families of two men shot to death by police in separate incidents.
One of the settlements, for $1.2 million, involved the highly publicized death of black tow-truck driver John L. Daniels Jr., 36. A white motorcycle officer shot Daniels to death as he attempted to drive away from a service station in South-Central Los Angeles last July 1.
The Daniels slaying, which took place less than two miles from a flash point of last year’s riots, attracted an angry crowd of more than 200 who shouted obscenities at police.
The other settlement, for $765,593.47, involved the death of Antonio Santillan in February, 1986. According to the city attorney’s office, Santillan was carrying a concealed, loaded pistol when he was slain by police as he stood beside a wall near 6th and Main streets.
During a trial of the wrongful-death suit filed by Santillan’s family, testimony differed as to how Santillan responded to police commands in the seconds before the officers opened fire.
In 1990, a jury awarded the Santillan family $750,000, but the city filed a motion for a new trial. After months of legal wrangling, the family said it was willing to settle the case for the $750,000, plus legal costs of $15,593.47.
In recommending settlement of the Daniels case, City Atty. James K. Hahn warned the council that if the case went to trial, a jury could find that Officer Douglas Iversen was not justified in the shooting. Hahn said the jury could award Daniels’ family an amount “substantially in excess of the proposed settlement.”
Last December, acting on the recommendation of Police Chief Willie L. Williams, the Police Commission ruled that Iversen violated departmental policy when he shot Daniels.
The commission ordered Iversen, 42, and his partner, Patrick Bradshaw, 28, to undergo tactical training. The commission’s actions cleared the way for a review by the department’s Board of Rights, which will determine discipline that could include dismissal.
Iversen told investigators that he shot Daniels, who was unarmed, after the tow-truck driver ignored an order to stop and started to drive away from the service station at Florence Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. Iversen said he fired his weapon because he feared that Daniels was about to run over some pedestrians.
Witnesses disputed that account, saying Daniels posed no threat. Police sources and a witnesses said Bradshaw turned to Iversen moments after the shooting and asked: “Why did you do that?”
Court records show that Daniels had been arrested a number of times, and a police detective described him as a “career criminal.” Daniels, however, had repeatedly contended that officers had been harassing him since his father, John L. Daniels Sr., was shot to death by police in 1985 during what investigators described as a gun battle.
Iversen has a history of misconduct, with three suspensions during the past six years. The disciplinary actions against him primarily involved charges of theft and misuse of police equipment.
Last Nov. 7, Daniels’ wife, Michele; his two children, Kendall, 18, and Janorey, 14; and his mother, Theresa, filed suit against the city in Los Angeles Superior Court, contending that the shooting by Iversen was inspired by “malice and racial animus.”
The city attorney’s office said the family subsequently indicated through an attorney that it was willing to settle the suit for $1.2 million.
In recommending settlement of the Santillan case, Hahn warned the council that there was “a significant risk” that a court of appeal would uphold the jury’s award of $750,000.
Should that be the case, “the city of Los Angeles would be saving approximately $121,973 in interest, which has accrued on the judgment, and approximately $100,000 in attorney’s fees . . . by paying the judgment at this time,” Hahn said.
Hahn’s office said that on Feb. 16, 1986, Los Angeles police officers were dispatched to 6th and Main streets to check out reports that an armed man was creating a disturbance.
“They spotted an individual fitting the suspect’s description,” Hahn said. “That individual was Antonio Santillan, (who) was armed with a loaded revolver concealed under his clothing.”
Hahn said that during the trial of the Santillan family’s wrongful-death suit, “testimony differed as to what the decedent was doing just before he was shot. . . .”
“Some officers testified that the decedent was reaching for a gun,” Hahn said. “One officer testified that the decedent had his hand on his gun. Plaintiff’s expert witness rejected both these versions and testified that the victim was lifting his jacket, apparently to show the officers that he had a gun. . . .
“The action of the decedent may have been confusing because of a language barrier, which could have inhibited the decedent’s ability to comply with the officers’ orders.”
Hahn noted another factor that could have contributed to Santillan’s possible confusion: An autopsy showed that he was legally drunk, with a blood alcohol level of .10.