LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The city of Los Angeles has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle federal excessive force claims against an LAPD officer for firing his gun into a group of Black teenagers.
On Thursday, the city announced it would pay $985,000 to settle the case against LAPD officer Michael Gutierrez, which was set to go to trial in August.
On February 10, 2015, Jamar Nicholson, Jason Huerta, and some friends were rapping in an alley a couple of blocks from their L.A. high school. One of their friends posed with an Airsoft gun, while he was rapping and dancing in a circle.
As the teens turned off the music and headed back to school, they heard multiple gunshots, fired by Guttierez, who had seen the group and — after seeing the prop gun — fired at them. One bullet hit Nicholson in the upper back.
Even though he was shot for no reason, Nicholson, who was 15 years old at the time, remained handcuffed when transported to the hospital and while in the emergency room. Both Nicholson and Huerta remained in custody for five hours, even though LAPD learned almost immediately that the group was innocent of any crimes.
“The officer falsely claimed a crime was being committed by Blacks and a Latino as they filmed themselves rapping with a bright orange-tipped replica gun as a prop,” said the boys’ attorney, John Harris. “This shooting wouldn’t have occurred if the kids were white, or on the way to school in a Westside neighborhood. This was a classic example of the mistreatment, racial prejudice and injustice against Blacks, including Black children.”
Harris said that, after a “long and rigorous five-year battle against the city for Guiterrez’s blatant and egregious misconduct, we finally convinced them to do the right thing and compensate our clients for their physical injuries and emotional distress suffered.”
The boys’ attorneys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD and the city of L.A. in September 2015, alleging that Guttierez violated the teens’ Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful arrest and excessive force by shooting at them and holding them unnecessarily in handcuffs for five hours.
The pair also said the shooting violated their 14th Amendment right to due process.
The city and then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck were dismissed from the suit, but an L.A. federal judge denied Gutierrez’s qualified immunity claims, which generally protect government officials from lawsuits that claim a plaintiff’s rights were violated. The officer appealed, but an appellate court affirmed the lower court ruling.
When the trial date was set for Aug. 20, the city settled.
“Four teens rapping in an alley with a prop gun and here comes a cop in plain clothes, who, without identifying himself, shoots three times,” Harris said. “Jason (Huerta) thought they were gang members, but gang members identify themselves before shooting.”
The attorney says the case reveals racial bias within the LAPD.
“They think all Black or Latino kids who are congregating are gang members,” Harris said.
Nicholson, now 19, has not fully recovered and recently had bullet fragments removed from his back, according to Harris.
“He may suffer from this for the rest of his life,” the attorney said.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)