LAPD Hit with Two Big Verdicts for Police Shootings
In the past two weeks, the Los Angeles Police Department has been hit with two multi-million dollar jury verdicts for police shootings – one for shooting an unarmed murder suspect and another for shooting and Tasering a mentally ill woman.
In the first incident, LAPD officers were attempting to arrest Robert Contreras for an alleged drive-by shooting in 2005. They claimed he turned toward them holding an object which turned out to be a cell phone. Officers shot Contreras, and left him paralyzed. According to police, he later pled no contest to attempted murder for the drive-by.
In Contreras’ lawsuit against the police for excessive force, the city rejected a $1.2 million offer to settle the case, and rolled the dice at trial instead.
The jury came back with a $5.7 million verdict against the city.
Contreras’ attorney, Dale Galipo, said he was pleased with the jury’s award.
“We asked for more, but, remember, I would have settled this case for less,” he said.
Cops Shoot an Unarmed Woman
In the second case, police encountered Valerie Allen, a 37-year-old woman with bipolar disorder, when a pedestrian reported a woman wandering in only a shirt and speaking incoherently.
Officers Brent Houlihan, a 15-year veteran of the LAPD, and his rookie partner Nam Phan responded, following Allen into someone’s backyard where she threatened to kill a woman looking through a window and then sprayed a garden hose at Phan.
They then followed Allen into a narrow opening between a house and wall where she continued screaming without making sense. Houlihan claimed he told Phan to use his Taser, but Phan said he didn’t hear this and instead approached Allen.
The mentally ill woman then picked up a wooden stake and knocked the rookie to the ground. Houlihan opened fire on her, shooting her three times in the chest, stomach and arm. Back-up arrived and then Tasered her while she lay flailing on the ground.
She was initially charged with assaulting a police officer, but those charges were dropped.
Again, the city stood by the officers and went to trial on the lawsuit.
Allen’s attorney, Martin Stanley, said the officers should have contained Allen in the yard while waiting for back-up to arrive.
“This was too aggressive a stance for officers to take with a woman who was clearly mentally ill and had no weapons, no ability to hurt anybody. Chasing this woman was the worst thing they could have done. It only confirmed her fears that the police were trying to hurt her,” Stanley said.
Allen said that she was under paranoid delusions at the time.
“I didn’t know they were police officers, I believed they were assassins,” she said.
Stanley argued officers were never in danger.
“She’s a harmless woman, 5-foot-3, 220 or 230 pounds. One of the officers was 6-foot-2, 260,” Stanley said. “She could have easily been tackled.”
The jury agreed and ordered the city to pay $3.2 million for using excessive force that it also found was “malicious.”
In 1997, Houlihan had been involved in another controversial killing when he and another officer shot a distraught man who was stabbing himself in a housing project, killing him.