County OKs $7.5 Million to Settle Suits
In what is believed to be the biggest settlement of excessive force cases in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to pay $7.5 million to settle three federal court cases alleging widespread misconduct by sheriff’s deputies.
The county also agreed to set aside $1.5 million to provide special training for deputies to prevent future problems and establish a computer system to track incidents in which excessive force is used. A special monitor appointed to oversee the department’s efforts to deal with excessive force cases also will stay on the job through 1999.
The supervisors quietly approved the unprecedented settlement on a 4-1 vote without public discussion.
Board Chairman Mike Antonovich voted against the settlement because he believes the $1.5 million for training would be better spent to provide more deputies in the jails or on the streets, a spokesman said.
The three lawsuits involved 40 incidents with deputies that occurred in the east Compton, Athens and Lynwood areas between October 1989 and May 1991, primarily involving African American and Latino residents.
The lawsuits accused deputies of “systemic acts of shooting, killing, brutality, terrorism, house-trashing and other acts of lawlessness and wanton abuse.”
Sheriff’s Department officials did not return phone calls concerning the settlement, which Sheriff Sherman Block previously characterized as partly a business decision. “With nearly 100 plaintiffs, [the cases] could have gone on for years,” Block said earlier this month. “With many of those I’m very confident that we would have prevailed.”
But attorneys for the plaintiffs said settlement negotiations with the county were spurred by a federal court jury’s decision last summer to award $611,000 to three African American plaintiffs in the first of the cases to be heard.
Merrick Bobb, the outside lawyer appointed by the supervisors to monitor the Sheriff’s Department, said the key element in the settlement was the $1.5 million set aside for the training.
“I think it is extraordinary in that this is one of the only settlements I know of in which part of the money is being reinvested in the Sheriff’s Department for the purposes of training where training is most needed,” he said.
Times staff writer J. Michael Kennedy contributed to this story.