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Judge cuts $1.7 million award in half in fatal LAPD shooting of autistic man

April 26, 2011 |  7:00 pm

A federal judge Tuesday overturned more than half of a $1.7-million verdict against the city of Los Angeles and a former LAPD officer who was found to have wrongly killed a man. The ruling did not absolve the ex-officer of any wrongdoing and was based on a legal technicality.

In January, a jury found that Joseph Cruz used excessive force in the 2008 shooting of Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, essentially rejecting Cruz’s claim that the 21-year-old autistic man had tried to attack him with a knife and that he had fired his gun in self-defense. After the shooting Cruz was fired from the LAPD for unrelated misconduct.

The jury broke the award into two categories -- $700,000 was awarded to Chaudhry’s parents and $1 million went to Chaudhry’s estate for the pain and suffering he experienced in the brief time between being shot and dying.

Attorneys for Cruz and the city argued that the jury erred in giving the $1 million. Federal law leaves it up to each state to decide whether to allow this type of award for suffering, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner wrote in his ruling.

California law forbids it, although judges have applied that law differently in different cases and no definitive precedent has been set by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote Klausner, who presided over the original trial.

Without a clear precedent, Klausner agreed with the defense attorneys and struck down the $1-million award.

Olu Orange, the attorney for the Chaundrys, said the family “respectfully disagrees” with the decision and was considering whether to appeal.

-- Joel Rubin

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