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Inglewood Settles Suit Over Controversial Police Shootings For $8.6M

In this file photo, an activist holds up a picture of Kisha Michael, left, and Marquintan Sandlin. The city of Inglewood has settled for $8.6 million in a wrongful death suit over their fatal shooting by police in February 2016. (Frank Stoltze/KPCC)
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Inglewood has agreed to pay $8.6 million to settle a lawsuit by the families of a man and woman killed in 2016 by Inglewood police, the latest in a series of controversial officer shootings in the city over the past several years.

One of the reasons for the sizable settlement is that the five officers who opened fire on Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin had no justification for doing so, said Milton Grimes, the attorney representing the two victims' families. All five were ultimately fired.

"They set up. They took cover. There was no officer in danger," he said. "They were all behind a vehicle or a bus bench -- wherever they thought they could be secure."

Inglewood political leaders were unavailable for comment; the city is closed for the holidays. The police department did not return calls seeking comment.

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The February 2016 incident began when officers found Michael and Sandlin apparently unconscious in their locked car, which was in the middle of the street. Michael had a handgun in her lap, according to an Inglewood police incident report obtained by LAist.

The police tried for some 45 minutes to rouse the pair; the incident report said officers tried turning on their lights and siren, blasting an airhorn and finally bumping the vehicle with a patrol car.

Eventually they awoke, but the incident report doesn't say what sparked the shooting.The Inglewood Police Department issued this statement after the shooting and has said little else since:

"Upon arrival, the officers observed the female occupant was in the possession of a firearm. The officers then took a position of cover and ordered the occupants to exit the vehicle. An officer involved shooting then occurred."

Michael and Sandlin had blood alcohol levels over the legal driving limit and Michael had trace amounts of methamphetamine, according to the coroner's autopsies. Michael, the mother of three, and Sandlin, the father of four, were out on a date, according to family members.

A lawsuit filed this month by the five fired officers alleges that Sandlin woke up first after the incident commander used a public address system to tell the couple to put their hands in the air.

The officers' suit says Sandlin drove into the patrol car in front of him, then reversed into the police vehicle behind him. It goes on to claim that one officer shot Sandlin when he reached toward Michael's lap -- where she had what the suit describes as a loaded semiautomatic gun.

The lawsuit says the passenger door opened moments later and Michael reached for her lap, prompting all five officers to open fire. She was shot 13 times. Sandlin was shot multiple times.

Trisha Michael, Kisha Michael's twin sister, said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the incident.

"I still don't understand who gave them the order to shoot," she said. "Did they shoot on their own -- is that why they're fired? Or are they just fired to protect the city of Inglewood?"

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The five fired officers -- Sean Reidy, Richard Parcella, Michael Jaen, Andrew Cohen and Jason Cantrell -- claim in their lawsuit they were discriminated against because they're white. They say they were following the orders of two more experienced sergeants at the scene, and that the sergeants -- both of whom are Latino -- were not fired.

The city has not responded to requests for comment on the ex-officers' suit.

The shootings led to calls for greater transparency in the Inglewood department. Watchdog groups were disturbed to learn that earlier this month Inglewood's city council voted to destroy records of more than 100 officer shootings and misconduct investigations that are more than five years old.

State law requires police departments to retain such records for five years. Mayor James Butts denied the move was intended to thwart a new state law taking effect Jan. 1 that requires departments to release records pertaining to police shootings and major use-of-force incidents, as well as sexual assault and lying on duty.

The U.S. Justice Department investigated Inglewood after its police shot and killed three unarmed people in 2008. In 2010, Justice issued a report saying the city lacked clear policies on the use of force.

In 2012 an Inglewood officer shot an unarmed man in his car, leaving him with brain damage; that resulted in a $4.6 million payout to settle a lawsuit.

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