Woman partially blinded by police beanbag round during protest settles lawsuit for $10 million
A woman who filed a lawsuit against a San Diego County city in 2020 after she was hit — and partially blinded — by a beanbag round an officer fired during a protest has settled with the city of La Mesa for $10 million.
Leslie Furcron said Wednesday she was glad the lawsuit settled in her favor but that money couldn’t return her life to normalcy. The 61-year-old said she now gets blistering headaches, which have prompted her to drop out of college.
For the record:
2:49 p.m. March 29, 2023A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the La Mesa City Council’s role in approving Furcron’s settlement, which was handled entirely by the city’s insurance provider. The Union-Tribune regrets the error.
Doctors told her she would need to undergo reconstructive surgery to properly seal the hole the projectile left in her skull, she said, and she will never regain vision in her left eye.
“I wish that it had never happened,” she said tearfully from her lawyer’s office. “I thank God that I’m living, right? I thank God that I’m living, but not every day is a good day for me.”
Still, when asked if she would attend the protest again, after everything she’s endured, she didn’t hesitate before she said, “Yes.”
“I’d do it again,” Furcron said. “Because I’m not OK with police brutality. I have a voice. I have a 1st Amendment right.”
Eric Knudson, then a La Mesa police detective, shot Furcron with the less-lethal round during a large protest on May 30, 2020, outside La Mesa Police Department headquarters. The demonstration came days after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, and at times, the scene turned riotous.
The La Mesa protests were also prompted by the controversial arrest of Amaurie Johnson near a trolley station in the city a few days earlier. Video of the incident — in which an officer can be seen repeatedly pushing the 23-year-old man down onto a concrete bench — went viral.
During the demonstration, which carried over into the next morning, some people in the crowd hurled bottles and large rocks at police officers, who deployed tear gas and fired beanbag rounds to get them to disperse. Fires were set inside City Hall, and some businesses were looted. At least two buildings were burned to the ground.
Knudson fired on Furcron after he thought she threw a rock at officers, police reports say. Investigators determined later that she actually threw an empty can of Red Bull.
Furcron filed her lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court months later alleging Knudson had violated both her 1st Amendment right to protest and standard law enforcement practices. The case was later moved to federal court.
Dante Pride, who represented Furcron, said the settlement was reached in December and approved by the La Mesa City Council the next month. City officials said in a statement last week that they were glad there was “resolution to this very unfortunate incident.”
Pride said it was one of the largest known settlements to be delivered in a police use-of-force case in San Diego County history.
Although Furcron’s lawsuit settled in her favor, neither the San Diego County district attorney’s office nor the La Mesa Police Department found Knudson had committed any wrongdoing.
In January 2021, the district attorney’s office announced it would not file charges against Knudson in criminal court in connection with the incident.
In a 25-page letter sent to La Mesa’s acting police chiefs, Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan wrote that her office had concluded, after a review of the evidence, that Knudson acted reasonably in defense of himself and others when he fired the round.
“Detective Knudson believed Ms. Furcron had thrown a rock. He was incorrect. Ms. Furcron threw a can, but his belief was not unreasonable given the totality of circumstances the officers were dealing with over several hours of protesting and rioting where they were subject to rocks being thrown at them continuously,” the letter reads in part.
The review also stated there was “no evidence Detective Knudson intended to aim at Ms. Furcron’s head.”
The La Mesa Police Department did not discipline Knudson, saying in February 2021 that the then-detective had not violated any significant department policies.
“From an administrative standpoint, it is determined that Detective Knudson reacted reasonably within California law and Department policy when he discharged the less lethal shotgun in order to prevent injury to other law enforcement officers,” department officials said in a report on the matter.
Retired Huntington Beach Police Lt. R.K. Miller was called in as an outside expert to review the incident and found Knudson’s actions were legally justified and reasonable.
Knudson was later promoted and is currently a sergeant at the department.
On Wednesday, Pride argued that, based on video evidence, several seconds passed after Furcron threw the can — time that Knudson could have used to determine if she was posing a threat to those around her.
“I believe that if we were able to get police departments to pay more often, these things would happen less,” Pride said.
“This big number tells me that they appreciate the gravity of the situation,” he said of the settlement. “They appreciate the damage that was caused to Ms. Furcron. But they are still behind as far as accountability for the officer.”
Furcron now lives in Nevada, where many of her family members reside. She said the settlement made her feel like she took a stand against police brutality.
“I consider myself an advocate and I can speak up for lives that matter,” she said.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.