L.A. settles police shooting case for $5 million

Officers investigate the scene of the LAPD's fatal shooting of an unarmed driver who crashed his car downtown after a high-speed chase.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a $5-million settlement with the family of an unarmed National Guard veteran killed on live television in a barrage of gunfire at the end of a wild pursuit last year in downtown L.A.

The proposed payout is the largest settlement the city has made in a fatal police shooting case in at least a decade and comes after Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck raised concerns about the officers’ tactics.


LAPD legal settlement: An article in the Aug. 21 Section A about the Los Angeles City Council settling with the family of a man fatally shot by police after a pursuit said the council rejected a proposed $1.2-million settlement in 2011 for a man shot and paralyzed by police. The council rejected a proposed settlement of $4.5 million in 2012. —
Brian Newt Beaird, 51, led police on a dangerous pursuit around southeast L.A. and downtown L.A. on the night of Dec. 13, weaving in and out of traffic in his Corvette at a high rate of speed. He was shot after he crashed into another vehicle in downtown L.A. and staggered out of the sports car.

Beaird’s father said he watched the chase live on television, including the moment when his son was killed. The officers who opened fire have been on paid leave since shortly after the shooting.


Councilman Bernard Parks, a former LAPD chief, said that the case was serious enough to warrant such a large payout and that a jury could have awarded far more had the case gone to trial.

“This is a case that clearly had significant potential liability far beyond what the settlement offer was,” he said. “It was a good business decision when you have a loss of life and you have evidence that could be viewed as overwhelming against the city of L.A.”

The settlement was approved by a 12-2 vote. Two council members who have served with the LAPD voted against the payout, saying the shooting appeared justified. Councilman Mitchell Englander said the officers could not see the driver’s hands when he fell so could not be sure whether he had a weapon.

“Given the totality of the circumstances, the officers’ actions were reasonable and it was reasonable to believe he had a weapon,” Englander said. “This is a man who evaded three police agencies.... It appears clear from the video he continues to try and evade the officers even after the crash.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino also voted against the settlement.

According to a city attorney summary of the shooting, the officers thought Beaird’s actions in the car suggested he was arming himself, and they later believed he was reaching for a weapon when his left arm dropped toward his waistband area after he was struck on the upper rear left thigh by a beanbag round from a police shotgun. Police fired about 21 shots at Beaird, the summary said.

LAPD officials previously said they were looking into whether some of the officers mistook nonlethal rounds fired by other officers for gunfire coming from the suspect.

The driver’s father, Bill Beaird, said he agreed to settle the case because he is suffering from lung cancer and didn’t want the litigation to drag on beyond his death.

“They do not make enough money in L.A. to make me happy. They shot my son in cold blood,” the 81-year-old said, choking back tears. “I would not trade my son’s life for every nickel in L.A. He means that much to me. I could not believe what I saw.”

For about an hour, the police pursuit of Beaird unfolded like one of the many televised car chases that have become almost a Southern California cliche.

The incident began around 9:30 p.m. as a suspected drunk- or reckless-driver pursuit in Cudahy by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. The LAPD took over the chase when it reached city limits.

Beaird was driving erratically and at high speeds on freeways and surface streets. With several LAPD cars following him, he slammed his Corvette into a Nissan crossing the intersection at Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street, sending the Nissan into a fire hydrant.

After initially trying to drive his mangled car, Beaird stepped out of the Corvette and staggered to the back of the car, with his hands up at one point and his back to the officers. Within moments, TV footage showed objects — possibly nonlethal rounds — bouncing off Beaird almost in concert with crackling gunfire.

Beaird fell to the ground, where he flailed from side to side before lying still as officers approached.

Beaird had served in the National Guard for several years, according to his father. He was discharged in 1988 after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor, his father said.

The elder Beaird told reporters last year that his son was a disabled veteran who needed regular medical care. An attorney for the family said the younger Beaird developed some paranoia — including toward police — after his brain surgery.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the LAPD Force Investigation Division, inspector general and district attorney’s office investigations into the shooting are continuing. The department has identified the officers as Leonardo Ortiz, Armando Corral and Michael Ayala.

The settlement comes as the LAPD is grappling with controversy over the Aug. 11 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford in South L.A. Officials say Ford was struggling with an officer and trying to take his gun, but some residents have disputed the account. Ford’s family says he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

Thomas Seabaugh, an attorney for the Beaird family, said footage of the December shooting clearly showed that the police action “constituted excessive and unreasonable force.”

The award surpasses another speedy settlement the city made after police mistakenly fired on two newspaper carriers during the manhunt for ex-cop Christopher Dorner. In that case, the city agreed within weeks to pay $4.2 million to the mother and daughter who came under fire.

Interviews and a Times analysis of city attorney data show that the Beaird settlement was the largest payout approved by the city for a fatal LAPD shooting since at least 2002. Such settlements are designed to avoid the possibility of much larger financial judgments by juries.

In 2012, a jury ordered the city to pay more than $5.7 million to a man who was shot and paralyzed by police. The City Council had rejected a proposed settlement of $4.5 million in 2012.

In 2000, the City Council approved a $15-million settlement to a then-23-year-old man who was shot and paralyzed by two LAPD Rampart Division officers, left for dead, and then framed and falsely imprisoned.

Times staff writers Ben Welsh and Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.