Parents of woman killed by ex-LAPD cop Stephanie Lazarus can't sue
The California Supreme Court has declined to rule on whether the parents of a woman murdered by a Los Angeles police officer should be allowed to sue the LAPD.
The justices' decision last week upholds a lower court's ruling that Nels and Loretta Rasmussen waited too long to act and effectively ends the couple's attempt to force police officials to confront questions about the bungled investigation into their daughter's 1986 killing.
Sherri Rasmussen was badly beaten and then shot to death in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband.
At the time of her killing, Rasmussen's parents and husband gave detectives reason to investigate the possibility that Stephanie Lazarus, a young LAPD officer, was responsible. Lazarus, they reported, had confronted and threatened Rasmussen before her death.
But Lazarus was not questioned nor considered a suspect. Instead, the lead detective in the case pursued a theory that Rasmussen had been killed by robbers.
Rasmussen's parents filed a lawsuit in 2010 that argued, in part, the LAPD should be held responsible for failing to consider Lazarus a suspect.
A judge knocked down the claim, ruling that legal time limits for bringing a lawsuit had run out on the family.
That decision was affirmed reluctantly by an appeals court. In issuing that panel's decision, Judge Laurence Rubin expressed regret but said he and the other judges could not ignore the laws that spell out the time limits.
"If the alleged facts are true, they call out for redress on the merits.... We nevertheless are constrained by law to uphold the trial court’s decision to dismiss this case because of the statute of limitations," Rubin wrote.
"The family is disappointed that the court didn't give us a full shot," John Taylor, the Rasmussens' attorney, said in an interview.
"The LAPD assured the Rasmussens that there would be a full investigation in the handling of the case. They were told, 'You shouldn't have had to wait this long.' But to our knowledge absolutely nothing has been done to fulfill this promise."
A spokesperson for the LAPD did not return calls for comment.
-- Joel Rubin
Follow Joel Rubin on Twitter at @joelrubin
Photo: Stephanie Lazarus, an ex-Los Angeles police detective convicted of killing her ex-boyfriend's wife, appears at a court hearing in 2009. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times