City Sued Over Role of SIS in Valley Bar Shooting


An attorney who has sued the Los Angeles Police Department at least eight times, making a particular target of the controversial Special Investigations Section, filed a new suit against the city in federal court Wednesday over an SIS shooting in Northridge.

Three robbers and a bystander were shot by the SIS after a holdup at the ClassRoom Bar Feb. 25.

Venice attorney Stephen Yagman filed suit representing patrons of the bar, contending that they were unwillingly used as “bait.” The suit alleges the patrons were endangered because SIS officers who were trailing the robbers allowed them to complete the holdup before police closed in outside the bar--a tactic the SIS has been criticized for in the past.


Yagman brought an earlier lawsuit on behalf of the bystander shot in the leg as he hid outside his home. The man said he feared police officers searching his neighborhood were after him because of unrelated warrants.

The officers were actually hunting for an alleged fourth robber, who had escaped, and was captured.

The six-count suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeks--among other things--unspecified general and punitive damages for G. Nicoletti, and 50 other unnamed customers in the bar the night of the holdup.

It also seeks an injunction to dismantle the SIS--a demand Yagman has made in other suits.

Named as defendants are 87 city employees, including the officers who participated in February’s operation, Police Chief Willie Williams, former Chief Daryl F. Gates, Mayor Richard Riordan, former Mayor Tom Bradley and members of the present City Council.

City officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, but they have said before that it is policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Wednesday’s suit marks the first time Yagman--who more commonly has sued on behalf of the alleged criminals or their families--has sued on behalf of patrons of an establishment under police surveillance.


“No matter how tough they want to be on criminals, it’s never permissible to use [bystanders] as bait,” Yagman said in an interview. “All were deprived of interests protected by the Constitution and/or laws of the United States of America.”

He said that to his knowledge, no law enforcement agency in the country approves of using civilians in a law enforcement operation, his interpretation of what happened at the Northridge bar.

Bar patrons said after the holdup that the robbers held guns to their heads and threatened them.

The SIS has been criticized over the years for its methodology of following career criminals and allowing them to commit serious crimes before moving in to arrest them, leading to many shootouts.

Police officials say that since 1982, SIS detectives have been involved in 300 armed confrontations, killing 18 people and injuring 16 others while making 700 arrests.

Yagman contends that since 1977, SIS detectives have killed 44 people.

In the suit filed Wednesday, Yagman says that since 1966--when the special unit was formed--the officers “have attempted to murder and . . . have murdered civilians,” apparently meaning the suspected criminals.


No bystanders have ever been killed by the SIS.

In actions resulting from Yagman’s suits, most recently a federal judge ordered the city to pay $102,000 in legal fees and punitive damages to Yagman and one of his clients--the young daughter of a robber who was killed as he fled after a holdup at a McDonald’s in Sunland in 1990 with three accomplices, two of whom were also killed.