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California

An assault by an LAPD officer led to a criminal conviction — and now, a $500,000 settlement

An image from a 2014 surveillance video shows officers surrounding a man on the ground in South Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles County Superior Court)

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay up to $500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man assaulted by a police officer in South Los Angeles, an arrest caught on video that resulted in a rare criminal conviction — but no jail time — for the officer.

In a 12-0 vote, city lawmakers agreed to close the books on a federal civil rights case brought by Clinton Alford, who was kicked, punched and elbowed by an officer during a 2014 arrest.

The settlement marks the financial fallout of a case that echoed the larger national debate about how police use force: a black man, assaulted by an officer, recorded on video. The officer’s actions were criticized by many police officials, particularly after seeing the footage captured by a nearby security camera.

Prosecutors charged LAPD Officer Richard Garcia with assault under the color of authority, a felony that could have landed him behind bars for up to three years.

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But Garcia was spared from jail last week under a controversial deal made with prosecutors. After completing community service, following all laws, staying away from Alford and donating $500 to a charity, Garcia was allowed to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge that replaced the felony.

Garcia was sentenced to serve two years of probation. The punishment was less severe than that recommended by a probation officer, who suggested in a report filed in court that Garcia spend a year in jail and three years on probation.

Officers initially tried to stop Alford in October 2014 because police were investigating a robbery and he matched the description of the suspect, authorities said. After the assault, Alford was booked on suspicion of drug possession and resisting arrest — a case prosecutors later dismissed.

The 25-year-old is now facing life in prison after a jury convicted him a few weeks ago in a separate 2015 case. The charges in that case included rape, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.

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Garcia is still employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, but is on unpaid leave awaiting a disciplinary hearing. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted last week that the hearing could result in his firing.

The City Council also unanimously agreed Wednesday to pay up to $500,000 to settle another lawsuit from a man who said he was permanently injured in 2013 after he was shot by officers and bitten by a police dog in South L.A.

The Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD, agreed with Beck that police were justified in firing their guns at Sergio Pina. Officers told investigators they saw the 37-year-old man point a gun at one of the officers as they searched a neighborhood for him, according to a summary of the commission’s decision.

No gun was found at the scene, but the board said a “preponderance of the evidence” supported the officers’ account that Pina was armed. Both the commission’s report and another report from Beck noted that police went to the neighborhood because someone called 911 reporting a man walking around with a gun. Beck’s report said Pina matched the description of the man.

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Pina contested the idea that he had a gun in two lawsuits he later filed, saying he was unarmed at the time of the shooting.

”We are pleased with the settlement because it was what the client wanted,” said Dale Galipo, an attorney who is representing Pina. “However, we felt we could prevail on the case had we gone to trial.”

The settlements were the latest in a string of police-related payouts that have captured the attention of City Hall, particularly as lawmakers took steps toward a controversial plan to borrow up to $60 million to help pay a skyrocketing legal tab.

Not all of the city’s costly settlements involved the LAPD. In August, for example, the council agreed to pay roughly $200 million to settle a lawsuit brought by disability rights groups over the lack of accessible publicly funded housing.

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But LAPD-related lawsuits have taken a toll on the city’s coffers. During the last fiscal year, the city paid almost $81 million to settle such cases, a sharp increase from recent years, driven by high-dollar settlements for two wrongful murder convictions and a police shooting that left a boy paralyzed.

The city has paid over $32 million for LAPD-related legal cases during this fiscal year, which ends June 30, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office said Wednesday.

Councilman Mitch Englander, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said in a statement that he was “very concerned with the current trend of rising payouts.”

Englander noted that many of the settlements stemmed from encounters that predated the Police Commission’s renewed efforts to minimize when officers use serious force — changes that have included revamped training, new protocols and more technology.

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“I will be looking closely at the implementation of these reforms to observe any measurable effect they have in halting or reversing this trend,” he said.

kate.mather@latimes.com

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemather and @LATimesEmily

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UPDATES:

6:25 p.m.: This story was updated with a comment from Councilman Mitch Englander.

This story was originally published at 4:55 p.m.


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