The Los Angeles City Council unanimously agreed Wednesday to spend $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a teen who was paralyzed in a police shooting, struck with a single shot after an officer said he mistook a pellet gun for a real firearm.
Five years ago, 13-year-old Royahent Gomez Eriza was shot and wounded when police happened upon him and two friends playing on a dark Glassell Park street.
At the time, police officials said the officer believed the teenager was an adult man and was unable to see the orange tip of the pistol that reveals it as a replica. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck called the incident “a tragedy for all involved” and said the city had seen “far too much heartbreak involving these types of realistic guns that are labeled as toys.”
In the lawsuit, the teen and his mother alleged that the officer had drawn his weapon “without just and legal cause,” disputing the police account of what happened.
Three years ago, a jury initially awarded $24 million to the teen in a civil suit, which was later reduced to $22 million, but the city filed an appeal against the decision.
Arnoldo Casillas, an attorney representing the teen and his mother, said they decided to negotiate a settlement with the city to avoid having to go back to trial.
Casillas said he was pleased that Gomez Eriza would have “a reasonably secure future,” but criticized the LAPD for having found the shooting to be in line with department policy. The police chief, the inspector general and the city police commission all reviewed the case, according to a statement released by the department three years ago.
“It’s another example of how their inability to evaluate these shootings in an honest way ends up costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars,” Casillas said. “Ultimately, the L.A. taxpayers are footing the bill for LAPD misconduct.”
An LAPD spokeswoman said the department had no comment at this time.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said Wednesday that the $15-million settlement was much lower than what the city would have had to pay if it had lost its appeal, since annual interest could have made the total payout as high as $28 million.
The Glassell Park shooting also renewed debate over replica guns and whether stricter regulations were needed to prevent tragic and even deadly confusion.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Imitation Firearms Safety Act, which bars nearly all types of pellet guns from being shown in public unless they are fashioned in a bright color. It goes into effect in January 2016.
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