LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A jury awarded $24 million to a teenager who was left paralyzed after a Los Angeles Police Department officer shot him two years ago.
The incident happened Dec. 16, 2010, around 7:30 p.m. in the Glassell Park area of Los Angeles.
According to the LAPD, Officer Victor Abarca and his partner were on routine patrol when they saw Rohayent Gomez, then 13 years old, and two of his friends in the middle of a dark street.
When they stopped to investigate, authorities claim Gomez fled behind a parked van.
Abarca said he shot the teenage boy after the victim refused to cooperate and subsequently pulled a pistol out of his pocket.
An investigation determined, however, that the boy had a replica 9-mm handgun.
Renaldo Casillas, Gomez’s attorney, said the teen was playing “cops and robbers” with his friends with pistols that looked similar to real guns, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Casillas told the newspaper that witnesses said the officers immediately drew their weapons when they arrived on the scene and took Gomez by surprise.
A jury decided Abarca used excessive force and was negligent in his decision to use a weapon.
The Times reported that the Police Commission cleared Abarca in 2011 after they determined the faux gun was “indistinguishable from a real firearm”.
Chief Charlie Beck released a statement that said he encourages the City Attorney to appeal the jury’s decision because he believes the judgment is unwarranted.
“This is a tragedy for all involved, but in particular, for the young man injured in this police shooting and for the officer who believed that he was protecting himself and his partner from a real threat,” Beck said.
The police chief continued, “The replica gun Gomez had was indistinguishable from a real handgun on a dark night. When our officers are confronted with a realistic replica weapon in the field, they have to react in a split second to the perceived threat. If our officers delay or don’t respond to armed suspects, it could cost them their lives.”