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L.A. approves $1.95-million settlement for family of woman fatally shot by police

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Abelardo Guzman, left, and Gloria Gonzalez weep at a 2016 news conference as their attorney describes the shooting of Norma Guzman.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles lawmakers agreed Tuesday to pay up to $1.95 million to end a legal battle with the family of a woman shot and killed by police officers in 2015.

The police chief and the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission that oversees the LAPD were divided over the killing of Norma Guzman 2½ years ago.

Chief Charlie Beck believed the two officers who shot the 37-year-old woman had followed department rules for using deadly force, saying they reasonably believed that Guzman presented an imminent, serious threat when she moved toward them with a knife.

But the Police Commission faulted one of the officers for his tactics and use of deadly force, agreeing with its inspector general that the officer put himself in a “vulnerable position” and without less-lethal alternatives, such as a bean-bag shotgun.

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Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the officers, concluding that they reasonably feared for their lives as Guzman approached them.

In the lawsuit, Guzman’s widower, Marcos Castaneda, and their teenage son argued that officers knew Guzman was “mentally challenged and completely harmless” and that she did not pose a threat to the two officers.

They also alleged that the Los Angeles Police Department had failed to properly train officers in dealing with people with mental illnesses.

Attorney Stephen Bernard, who represented the family, said Tuesday that “this whole story is a tragedy, especially for people who came here for a better life.”

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For a teenager whose mother was killed by police, “I don’t think the money ever does right by that situation,” Bernard said.

The City Council voted 12 to 2 to approve the payment. Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Mitchell Englander opposed the decision.

Buscaino said the shooting was “a tragedy on all levels,” but argued that the city should have taken the case to trial.

“At what point do we start defending these officers’ actions?” Buscaino asked.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlpertReyes

Los Angeles Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.


UPDATES:

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3 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from Stephen Bernard, the family’s attorney.

This article originally published at 12:05 p.m.


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