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Criminal Justice

LA Supervisors Approve $47.6M For Sheriff’s Deputies' Alleged Misconduct

A raised hand holds a homemade sign with a sketch of a man in a Dodger cap and the words: Justice 4 Andres
A 2020 march to protest the killing of Andres Guardado. The county settled his family's lawsuit for $8 million.
(Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have approved a total of nearly $50 million in payments to settle four lawsuits and one legal claim alleging misconduct by sheriff’s deputies in incidents that left four men dead and one paralyzed.

Two of the cases involved how department personnel dealt with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

One of the men died after being tased and beaten by deputies, according to his family’s lawyer. Another was paralyzed after being shot in the back. In both incidents, parents called 911 for help with children experiencing a mental health crisis. And in both incidents, deputies used force inside the men’s own bedrooms.

One settlement settled a suit over the high-profile killing of Andres Guardado. Another resolved a claim regarding a bystander who was shot and killed during a shootout. The fifth payout settled a case involving a man who died in custody.

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“This is what a mindblowing lack of accountability looks like,” ACLU attorney Andres Kwon said. “The financial cost is extraordinary, yet it pales in comparison with the human cost.”

The County's Position

Asked for comment about the settlements — which do not include any admission of wrongdoing, the Sheriff’s Department sent this statement to LAist: "When the Board of Supervisors directs County Counsel to do a matador defense on LASD lawsuits, this is what happens."

In memos to the board regarding each of the cases, the county’s Litigation Cost Manager Adrienne Byers said: “Given the high risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs.”

The county has paid its attorneys at least $900,000 to litigate the cases.

The FBI is investigating one of the incidents — the 2020 fatal shooting of Guardado, who was shot five times in the back in Gardena. His killing came just three weeks after the murder of George Floyd, sparked angry protests, and prompted the first coroner’s Inquest in L.A. County in nearly 40 years.

Here are the five settlements:

Timothy Neal — $16.5 million

Timothy Neal was paralyzed after a deputy shot him in the back on July 26, 2019.

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Here's the County Litigation Cost Manager summary:

“This lawsuit concerns allegations of civil rights violations, excessive force, and improper training or lack of training by Sheriff's Deputies.”

Neal was shot once in the back inside his bedroom at his parent’s Malibu home. His mother had called 911 hoping deputies would take her son, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, to a mental hospital.

In a statement, Neal’s parents said the deputies “broke Tim’s bedroom door down with a sledge hammer. When Tim, still in the throes of paranoid schizophrenia, attempted to run from the officers, he was shot in the back and rendered a paraplegic.” Also in the statement, Neal said: “I hope this terrible event that has cost me the use of my lower body brings about long overdue changes in how law enforcement addresses mental health crises; not as a crime but as an illness.”

The office of then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined to file criminal charges against the deputy who shot Neal, saying Neal had threatened to kill deputies and was running toward a door “while armed with knives.” “It was reasonable” for the deputies “to fear that Neal may attack” them, the DA’s office concluded.

Eric Esteban Briceno — $16.25 million

Eric Esteban Briceno, 39, died after a physical altercation with four deputies on March 16, 2020.

Here's the County Litigation Cost Manager summary:

“This lawsuit concerns allegations of a fatal use of force incident and wrongful death by Sheriff's Deputies."

In their lawsuit, Briceno’s parents said they called deputies for help with their son, who was experiencing a mental health crisis. The suit claimed the deputies ”brushed Blanca [Eric’s mother] aside as they all walked into the home,” and “startled” Briceno as he lay on his bed, apparently asleep.

The suit also says deputies pushed Briceno’s mother out of the room, and then “[w]ithout justification, all four of the deputies beat and tasered Eric. Blanca returned to the bedroom door where she saw several male deputies on top of Eric, either kneeling on his back or hitting him with batons, and Deputy [Jennifer] Romero was elbowing him. Eric, in a muffled voice repeated, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’”

DA George Gascón's office said it is still reviewing this case to determine whether to file criminal charges against the deputies who were involved.

Andres Guardado — $8 million

Handmade sign reads: Andrés Guardado 18 y/o murdered by police near photos of a young Latino.
A memorial to Andres Guardado.
(Josie Huang

Andres Guardado, 18, was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy on June 19, 2020.

Here's the County Litigation Cost Manager summary:

“This wrongful death lawsuit arises from the death of plaintiff's son, who was fatally shot by a Sheriff's deputy in an unincorporated area near the City of Gardena."

Guardado was shot five times in the back by a deputy who had chased him down the driveway of a business in the West Compton neighborhood. According to the deputy, Guardado had a gun, dropped it, but reached for it again as he was on the ground.

The shooting prompted the first Coroner's Inquest in L.A. County in more than four decades.

Gascon's office said it is still reviewing this case for possible criminal charges.

Pedro Lopez — $5 million

Pedro Lopez, 67, died after being fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies on Feb. 17, 2022.

Here's the County Litigation Cost Manager summary:

This case "concerns allegations of a federal civil rights violations and wrongful death by Sheriff's Deputies.”

Lopez was at his Norwalk home when deputies engaged in a shootout with a carjacking suspect. One of the deputies' bullets struck him and he died. His daughter Maria Lopez told KCBS-TV that she pleaded with deputies to check on her father because she was on the phone with him at the time. It would be four hours before deputies searched his home and found him in his backyard, she said.

“I heard him gasping for air. And then if I am being honest, my father being my father, I feel like he hung up on me so I wouldn’t hear him take his last breath. Because the call ended, it didn’t drop,” Maria Lopez said in the interview.

Under state law AB 1506, the California Attorney General's office is investigating this shooting because Lopez was unarmed.

Rufino Paredes — $1.9 million

Rufino Paredes died while in custody.

Here's the County Litigation Cost Manager summary:

“This wrongful death lawsuit alleges federal civil rights violations, denial of medical care, and negligence arising from the death of plaintiff's son while in the custody of the Sheriff's Department.”

Paredes is survived by his mother and five minor children.

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