Another costly verdict goes against the LAPD
A jury has awarded a former LAPD officer $2.8 million after finding that department officials retaliated against him when he backed another officer's claims about an allegedly racist supervisor.
The award is the latest in a string of six- and seven-figure judgements against the LAPD in which officers have been found liable for various gaffes. Many of the cases involve injuries suffered at the hands of officers, but a large number of the lawsuits are brought by officers who allege retaliation, harassment or some other workplace problem.
Though some lawsuits are inevitable, the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money spent to pay verdicts amid the city's fiscal crisis have increasingly angered city officials and the public. In response, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has launched an effort to improve how the department keeps track of the cases, while also clamping down on the behavior that leads to the lawsuits.
The current case was brought by Pedro Torres, who alleged that police officials sought to punish him for his decision to testify on behalf of another officer. That officer alleged that a station supervisor repeatedly made racially offensive comments about Latinos and African Americans. Torres' testimony helped the officer win a multimillion-dollar verdict against the department.
After he testified, Torres was suspended for his handling of an April 2007 kidnapping case, in which he fired at the tires of the kidnappers' getaway vehicle.
Torres alleged in his lawsuit that the suspension and other incidents were payback for his testimony in the earlier lawsuit. The harassment, he said, caused him to develop severe anxiety that culminated with his retirement after a psychologist found that he was no longer fit to be a cop, said Gregory Smith, Torres' attorney.
More than half of the award was to repay Torres for lost wages, Smith said.
Smith said he offered to settle the case for about $700,000, but that the lawyers handling the case for the city attorney's office recommended that the City Council reject the deal.
"You can't settle anything with them," said Smith, who has made a career representing officers in lawsuits against the LAPD. "They are determined to take every case to the mat and when they take good cases to the mat they're going to lose."
Smith is running to unseat City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and stands to benefit by criticizing Trutanich's track record on such cases.
William Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy, rebutted that notion and defended the decision to take the Torres case to a jury.
"We are not shy about recommending settlement when we believe it is warranted," he said. "But when we believe the LAPD has not done anything wrong, we will defend them and this is one of those cases."
Carter said the city would appeal the verdict.
“It is very disconcerting to me when a judgment such as this is handed down,” Beck said. “It should be noted that the shooting in this case was reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General and the Police Commission, and they also concluded the shooting was out of policy."
-- Joel Rubin