Los Angeles County supervisors voiced concerns about the rising cost of lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday and separately approved a $1.6-million settlement in the fatal shooting of an 80-year-old man by deputies in 2013.
The supervisors discussed the county’s annual litigation cost report, which showed a 24% increase in the total cost of lawsuits in fiscal year 2014-15 and a 50% increase in litigation expenses involving the Sheriff’s Department.
Lawsuit costs rose from $95.6 million to $118.9 million for the county and from $40.7 million to $61 million for the Sheriff’s Department, according to the report.
The increase was largely driven by several big-ticket payouts for settlements and judgments in shooting and excessive-force cases.
Steve Estabrook, the county’s litigation cost manager, noted that the expense of excessive-force cases against the Sheriff’s Department has “risen steadily” over the last three years from $13 million in fiscal year 2011-12 to $33.5 million in 2014-15.
He said that the incidents that spurred the lawsuits dated back several years and that the number of cases filed has decreased during the last two years.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said she was concerned about the rising costs.
“I understand the sheriff is working with us proactively on corrective plans, but I don’t want to see corrective plans just for the sake of having a report that sits somewhere and no one takes action on it,” she said.
In a separate action, the board approved a $1.6-million settlement in a lawsuit over the fatal shooting of 80-year-old Eugene Robert Mallory, a retired Lockheed Martin engineer.
The deputies were serving a search warrant at Mallory’s home in the community of Littlerock near Palmdale in June 2013 while investigating reports of a suspected meth lab.
No evidence of methamphetamine was found. Sheriff’s officials at the time said that marijuana was discovered on the property.
Mallory’s wife filed a wrongful death suit against the department. According to a statement released by her attorneys at the time, deputies claimed that Mallory had confronted them with a gun, but his wife said he was “sleeping in his bed when he was confronted and shot without warning.”
In a memo to the supervisors, county attorneys said the county denies the allegations in the lawsuit but recommended settling the case “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation.”
The supervisors approved the settlement without discussion.