The mother and daughter newspaper carriers injured when police mistakenly fired on them during the manhunt for ex-cop Christopher Dorner would receive $4.2 million under a settlement announced by city officials.
The settlement was remarkably speedy compared with other LAPD civil lawsuits, which can take years to be resolved.
The $4.2-million dollar payout raised eyebrows, with some legal experts saying it seemed unusually high for a case involving a police shooting that didn’t cause permanently debilitating injuries.
“It is fair, but high,” said Los Angeles civil rights attorney Carl Douglas.
David Klinger, a use-of-force expert at the University of Missouri in St. Louis and a former LAPD officer, also said the payout seems high because neither victim faced long-term physical debilitation.
“Usually a payout of this magnitude typically comes in cases with crippling injuries and deaths,” Klinger said.
City Atty. Carmen Trutanich was blunt Tuesday in saying the city wanted to get the case, which has been a black eye for the LAPD, behind it as quickly as possible.
“Hopefully this will put an end to the Dorner saga once and for all,” Trutanich said. He said the agreement was a “no brainer because the costs were going to skyrocket,” if negotiations dragged on and the case ended up in court.
“We got out of this thing pretty cheaply, all things considered,” he added.
The LAPD has from the beginning described the incident as a tragic mistake by officers. Chief Charlie Beck met with the women a few days after the shooting to personally apologize and launched an investigation into the officers’ conducts, which is still ongoing. As of Tuesday, the eight officers involved remain off patrol duties.
Margie Carranza, 47 and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were hurt when a Toyota truck they were driving on a Torrance street was repeatedly shot by LAPD officers in the early morning hours of Feb. 7.
The women, who were delivering the Los Angeles Times in a quiet suburban neighborhood, had unknowingly driven down a street that included the heavily-guarded home of an LAPD captain named by Dorner in an online manifesto airing his grievances against law enforcement. Carranza ended up with superficial wounds while her elderly mother was hit twice by bullets in the back, their lawyers say. Both have recuperated physically.
At a Tuesday news conference near City Hall, lawyers on both sides of the case hailed the payout as reasonable.
“I have a 71-year-old client,” said Glen Jonas, the women’s lawyer. “You think she wants to risk the appellate court reversing it for one reason or another? $4.2 million means a lot more to her today than potentially $7 million 10 years down the road.”
The settlement must now be approved by Los Angeles’ City Council, which typically rubber stamps such payouts. Council approval would end a public dispute between the mother and daughter’s lawyers and the city, wrangling highlighted most recently over a disagreement over how best to replace the damaged truck.
Since the women have refused to speak publicly, and police have provided only brief descriptions, details on the shooting remain sketchy. But this much is known: In an Irvine parking lot on Feb. 3, Dorner had allegedly shot to death the daughter of a former LAPD captain listed in the manifesto and also killed her fiance. Days later, as a unit of LAPD officers stood watch over the captain’s house in Torrance, an alert went out saying a truck matching Dorner’s was in the area. Hours before, he had allegedly shot at four police officers in the Riverside area, killing one.
At around 5 a.m., the mother and daughter’s blue Toyota rolled slowly down Redbeam Avenue. Carranza was at the wheel, her window rolled down as she tossed newspapers toward front doors. Her mother was seated behind her, rolling the newspapers up. The mayhem began when police stationed on the block somehow mistook the Toyota for a gray Nissan Titan, the vehicle Dorner was said to be driving.
Jonas has described his clients as receiving “no commands, no instructions and no opportunity for surrender” as they went down the street. He has also said their vehicle's headlights were on. When police opened fire, he said, the truck’s cabin became a storm of bullets, shattered glass and plastic.
“Margie is screaming ‘we are being shot at, we are being shot at!’ Jonas said. “Then she screamed out, ‘I am just the newspaper woman, I am the newspaper woman!’”
When the shooting stopped, Redbeam looked like something out of a war zone. The bullet-riddled truck was stopped in the middle of the street, facing north, having lurched a few doors past the captain’s residence. Nearby homes, trees and cars were pockmarked by scores of bullet holes. Nobody living in the neighborhood was injured; most residents were in their beds and asleep when the shooting began.
The women had worked a number of low-wage jobs to make ends meet and live in a South Bay apartment with Margie’s teenage son and her sister. Jonas said a bullet pierced Hernandez’s upper back and came out of her chest, barely missing her heart. Another hit her in the lower back but bounced off, her lawyer said Tuesday. Carranza suffered less serious wounds, escaping the mayhem with cuts on both hands.
Not long after the shooting, Beck called it a “tragic misinterpretation” by officers working under “incredible tension.” The police department pledged to replace the truck, but the offer bogged down in public spat when the truck wasn’t speedily delivered. When the women were finally offered a replacement truck, it wasn’t just a different model, it was a vehicle the women would have to pay taxes for taking. The battle over the truck ended recently when the city agreed to give the women $40,000 to replace it.
Lawyers involved in the settlement said they were eager to put the shooting, and memories of Christopher Dorner, in the past. Days after the Torrance incident Dorner's charred remains were found in a Big Bear-area cabin after a shootout with police.
City officials continue to grapple over the payout of a $1-million reward offered during the manhunt. Several people have claimed the reward. The LAPD announced a three-judge panel will determine who gets it.
There’s also the matter of the second police shooting that occurred on the morning of Feb. 7; by Torrance police who also mistakenly believed they’d come upon Dorner in a truck. The vehicle’s driver, David Perdue, was not seriously hurt. His lawyer, Todd Thibodo, said Tuesday that mediation talks for a payout from the city of Torrance are set to begin in June.