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City May Pay $2.5 Million to Woman Who Lost Eye

Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office has tentatively agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who lost an eye after a police officer shot her with a beanbag projectile because he mistakenly believed she was reaching for a weapon.

The proposed settlement with Annette Amoroso, 40, comes amid allegations by her attorneys that police investigators withheld a videotape from the evening she was shot that might have been key evidence in the case. Additionally, they alleged, the officer’s claim that he shot Amoroso after she put her hands in her pockets near the bottom of her jacket was undermined by the jacket itself: There were no outside pockets near the bottom of the jacket.

Amoroso was shot on Nov. 27, 2000, by Officer Craig Marquez during an investigation to determine whether the sport utility vehicle she was a passenger in was stolen. Although the SUV had been reported stolen by the owner, it was, in fact, the owner’s husband who had the vehicle.

An internal investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department concluded that the officer did not have sufficient reason to shoot at Amoroso.

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Marquez, who had previous excessive force complaints against him, including unnecessarily pointing his gun at another motorist’s head, was suspended for 22 days as a result. He has requested a disciplinary hearing to fight the suspension.

The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed settlement today.

Amoroso’s attorneys declined to comment on the case, pending the council’s vote. But court documents they filed allege that the LAPD covered up the true facts of the incident.

Special Assistant City Atty. Josh Perttula, a spokesman for the office, said attorneys are recommending settling the case for a number of reasons, including “the out-of-policy finding in the shooting, the plaintiff’s injuries, which were severe, as well as some very difficult evidentiary hurdles that had to be overcome.”

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The evidentiary problems included the missing videotape and the fact that the jacket’s design did not appear to square with the officer’s description of the incident, a city official said. The officer’s previous complaint history also posed potential problems for the trial, the official said.

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SUV Reported Stolen

According to police reports, Marquez and his partner were on patrol when they became suspicious of a brown Toyota Land Cruiser, which had pulled out of a motel parking lot near 3rd and Alvarado streets. When they checked the vehicle’s license plate number, they learned that it had been reported stolen.

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The officers called for help and continued following the SUV as it pulled into a nearby gas station and parked. Amoroso then exited the vehicle’s right rear passenger door.

Believing that she was a possible car thief, the officers got out of their car, drew their weapons and ordered Amoroso to put her hands on her head and kneel on the ground. Amoroso, who was wearing a short leather jacket and miniskirt, and who said later that she had been drinking, did not do as she was told.

A male passenger, identified as Kevin Patrick, also got out of the vehicle. He too refused the officers’ commands to get down on his knees. As the confrontation escalated, other patrol officers responded to the scene.

Police said Amoroso yelled profanities at the officers, and told them she was going to go into the gas station’s mini-mart to buy some water. Marquez said he felt threatened by Amoroso’s conduct and retrieved a beanbag shotgun, a weapon that police sometimes use to subdue a violent or uncooperative suspect when the situation does not call for use of a normal gun.

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Amoroso, with her hands allegedly inside her jacket pockets, continued to swear at the officers and took a couple of steps toward them, police reports state. In response, Marquez fired one beanbag round at her, which apparently missed. Amoroso then started to walk toward the mini-mart.

Marquez, who said he thought Amoroso might take hostages inside the mini-mart, fired another round, this time striking her in the torso.

“I can’t believe you just shot me,” Amoroso cried as she fell to her knees and then laid in a fetal position, according to the police report.

“Moments later, Amoroso sat back up on her knees,” the police report states. “Amoroso then leaned forward, placed her hands in her jacket pockets and began to rise, simultaneously turning clockwise toward Officer Marquez. Believing Amoroso may be armed and was possibly about to draw a weapon from her jacket or waist, Officer Marquez fired a third beanbag round.”

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That one struck Amoroso directly in her right eye. The force of the blow obliterated her eyeball, broke bones around her eye-socket and caused bleeding in a layer of her brain.

According to the police report, the entire incident occurred within two minutes.

“Based on the totality of the situation, it was not reasonable for Officer Marquez to conclude Amoroso was armed or presented an immediate threat,” then-Chief Bernard C. Parks said in finding the officer’s actions “out of policy.”

In the end, it turned out that the vehicle was reported stolen by Patrick’s wife, apparently because they had been fighting, and he failed to pick her up at the airport as he had promised.

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As a result of the injury, Amoroso had to have surgery to remove the remnants of her eye. She is undergoing reconstructive surgery around her eye. Amoroso, a onetime hairdresser and mother of four from Westlake Village, has since moved to Hawaii and could not be reached for comment.

In an interview with The Times shortly after the shooting, Amoroso said she had been out to the Viper Room nightclub with friends that evening to see a friend’s band perform and did not want to kneel on oily pavement because she was wearing nice clothes.

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Findings Questioned

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Amoroso’s attorneys -- Ian Herzog, Amy Ardell and Richard Plotin -- were critical of the department’s investigation. According to court papers, they alleged that physical evidence and witness testimony refuted the police account.

They contended that Amoroso was on her knees with her hands in the air the first time she was struck by a beanbag, and was shot in the eye when she turned around. The lawyers also argued that Amoroso’s jacket has no pockets in which she could have hidden her hands. The only three pockets on the outside of the garment are small ones near the breast and shoulder areas, they said.

Finally, when they asked for any photographs and videotape during the discovery process before a trial, they were told by lawyers for the city that no video existed. However, during the deposition of one officer who was at the scene that evening, a security tape from the gas station was discovered. According to that officer, who viewed the tape for only a few moments, the video depicted Amoroso just prior to her being shot and may have shown more of the encounter.

The city attorney in the case initially denied that any videotape had been recovered from the gas station. Later, the city attorney acknowledged that a tape had been seized, but that it did not show anything relevant and ultimately was returned to the gas station owner, who taped over it.

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