The Los Angeles City Council on Friday awarded $4.5 million to a teen-age girl who was molested by a uniformed police officer, in a settlement that has renewed calls for better police training and discipline.
The award, one of the largest on record for the Police Department, stems from a 1989 incident in which veteran officer Stanley Tanabe fondled a 13-year-old Hollywood girl while he was ostensibly searching her family’s home.
According to police records and prosecutors, Tanabe demanded entry to the girl’s Hollywood home at 3 a.m. one January night in 1989. Off duty but in uniform, Tanabe told the girl’s parents that he was responding to a call about someone screaming for help. He went to the teen-ager’s bedroom and fondled her while pretending to search her. When she resisted, he placed one hand on his gun, the girl told police.
Tanabe returned to the girl’s home a second time in March of that year--again off duty but in uniform--but this time the teen-ager fled and called police. He was arrested as he left the house.
Tanabe, who maintained his innocence, was convicted in 1990 of sexual battery and burglary in connection with the case and sentenced to two years in state prison.
In 1992, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ordered the city to pay the girl $6.1 million in compensatory damages and ordered Tanabe to pay $3.1 million in punitive damages. At the time, an attorney for the girl said she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and had attempted suicide as a result of the incident.
By agreeing to Friday’s smaller, $4.5-million settlement, the girl and her family will avoid the possibility that the city would appeal the case. About $1 million of the payment to the girl will go to her attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.
The girl is now 18 years old and preparing to enter a community college in the fall, Cochran said. “She is going to be protected for the rest of her life,” Cochran said. “I am really pleased.”
But the City Council said it will not let the case end there. In another action Friday, the council members asked the city attorney to file a lawsuit against Tanabe in an effort to recover some or all of the city’s payment.
The council on Friday also awarded $125,000 in another police case involving Salvador Rodriguez, who charged that officers used excessive force when they arrested him near his North Hollywood home in 1989.
Police said that Rodriguez appeared to be intoxicated, although his blood alcohol level was never tested, and that he resisted when they responded to a disturbance call.
Independent witnesses said many of approximately a dozen baton blows struck by police came “without any resistance” by Rodriguez, according to a city attorney’s report on the incident.
The payouts prompted council members to call for increased efforts to reduce litigation involving the Police Department. The council directed the Police Commission and a City Council committee to study whether training can improve police conduct and reduce the number of suits filed against the LAPD.
It also called on the Police Department to automatically launch internal investigations when lawsuits are filed. Council members Jackie Goldberg and Laura Chick, who proposed the changes, said they were disturbed that no internal review was conducted in the Rodriguez case.
A spokesman said the Police Department would need more information before it can comment on the City Council’s actions.
The city attorney’s office said it has not compiled information yet on total police-related litigation payments in 1994. But prior records show that such payouts dropped in 1993 after four years of dramatic increases. The city paid out an all-time high of $19.7 million on behalf of the department in 1992, but that was cut to $10.7 million last year, said Mike Qualls, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office.
Goldberg said the payments have been devastating to the city.
“This larger judgment was more than the budget of the entire Cultural Affairs Department,” Goldberg said. “We have to do something to make sure we learn from these cases.”
Goldberg said if the council’s actions Friday do not accomplish enough, she would consider taking further measures, including having departments pay judgments out of their own budgets, instead of from city reserves. The change could give the Police Department and other city departments even more incentive to improve their conduct and reduce litigation, she said.
Chick said she found it “very ironic” that the large payouts came on the second anniversary of the riots, which were triggered by the acquittal of officers accused of beating Rodney G. King.
“We gave away close to $5 million today,” Chick said. “We still have a long way to go.” She said the only consolation in the cases came because both incidents took place in 1989, prior to efforts to reform the Police Department.