Bounty hunter shot by LAPD officer awarded nearly $1.2 million [Updated]
A bounty hunter shot and wounded by Los Angeles police who mistook him for a robber as he was taking a fugitive into custody has been awarded nearly $1.2 million by a federal jury.
Jurors earlier this month found Los Angeles Police Department Officer Daniel Pearce used “excessive force” when he shot Elvin Andre Gilbert in South L.A., where the bail recovery agent was detaining a bail jumper wanted on a felony.
The Nov. 30, 2005, shooting unfolded shortly before 9 p.m. and left Gilbert, who was working for a San Jose bail bonds company, in a drug-induced coma for several days from the gunshot wounds.
“I am glad it is over, and I’m happy with the jury’s decision,” said Gilbert, who continues to live with injuries he received.
[Updated at 1:21 p.m.: "I am very happy the jurors got to hear what really happened," Gilbert said in a phone interview. "(The LAPD) made a lot of statements that contradicted the facts to try to justify the shooting.”]
Gilbert was shot after Pearce and his then-partner Officer Harlan Taylor heard a commotion near the 2100 block of East 99th Place and saw two men dressed in black confronting a Latino, holding his wrists behind his back and escorting him at gunpoint.
Officers said one of the men held a gun to the head of Isabino Vasquez, and they believed Gilbert and fellow bail agent Allen Badoya were committing a robbery or a kidnapping.
During a six-day trial, Gilbert’s attorney, Dale K. Galipo, presented witnesses who said Gilbert and his partner were about to escort the fugitive, and the gun was not raised when officers confronted them.
He also disputed the officers’ account that a warning was shouted before the shots were fired.
[Updated at 1:23 p.m.: "They shot me as soon as I stood up," Gilbert said Thursday in a phone interview. "Once I was hit, it was lights out… I never saw the officers or heard them. I only knew they were police officers when they said they would blow my head off if I moved and began handcuffing me.”]
The wounded Gilbert was arrested for assault on an officer, and the LAPD guarded his hospital room for several days. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office declined to charge Gilbert.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jan Ian Perlstein noted the “facts tend to indicate he turned toward the officer to see where the shooting was coming from.”
The jurors hearing the civil lawsuit found the LAPD officers did not have the required probable cause to arrest Gilbert. The jury Jan. 10 awarded Gilbert $1.165 million, including $365,000 for economic damages, $200,000 for physical pain, mental suffering and emotional distress and $600,000 for future damages.
A deputy city attorney who handled the case did not return calls from the Times.
Attorneys for Gilbert told jurors the bounty hunters had warned an LAPD patrol unit the day before that they would be in the area seeking to detain a fugitive.
While Gilbert was in the hospital, lawyers for Gilbert alleged an LAPD officer guarding him and a detective questioned the bail agent as he was coming out of his coma, despite a request that such contact be made only with his lawyer present.
The jurors’ decision contradicts one by the Los Angeles Police Commission that found the use of force to be within department policy but that the officers' tactics warranted further training. The commission was particularly concerned that when a crowd gathered after the shooting, one of the officers picked up the weapon Gilbert dropped and put it in his pocket but then placed it back — making it seem as though it was planted.
At the time of the shooting, eyewitness Elvonzo Cromwell told the Times the bounty hunters were dressed all in black and that Gilbert looked like a robber. Cromwell described a chaotic scene after the shooting, one witnessed by many bystanders.
He said he did not hear the police yell orders for Gilbert to drop his gun, but he said the man was holding a gun when he was shot. The police "came out of nowhere all of a sudden," he said. He said a shot went over his head.
-- Richard Winton