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$4 Million Jury Award To LAPD Officers Who Fatally Shot Autistic Man Overturned By Appeals Court

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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. (Photo by LeonardFiles via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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In 2015, two Latino Los Angeles Police Department officers who were placed on desk duty for five years after fatally shooting an unarmed, autistic man in 2010 were awarded nearly $4 million by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury after they sued the LAPD, alleging discrimination and retaliation. Last week, a state appeals court overturned that decision, with the three-judge panel stating that the officers failed to prove that discrimination occurred, according to the L.A. Times.

The two officers, Allan Corrales and George Diego, had been awarded more than $2 million and $1.9 million, respectively. They fatally shot 27-year-old Steven Washington, an unarmed black man whose family said that he was autistic, on March 20, 2010. In a separate lawsuit, Washington's mother had sued the city and received a $950,000 settlement in 2012 after filing a wrong death claim, according to KPCC.

The two officers filed their lawsuit in 2012, alleging that they were treated differently because they were Latino, and if they were white or black they would have already been back out in the field. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who ruled that the shooting was justified, testified in 2015 that they were kept on desk duty not because of their race, but because of errors made during the incident. "Beck acknowledged that he concluded the shooting was justified but said the officers made a series of tactical errors leading up to their use of lethal force," the L.A. Times reported in 2015. The LAPD's civilian police oversight commission ruled against Beck's recommendation, finding that the officers had violated the department's use-of-force policy in the deadly shooting.

Beck also testified denying that the officers had faced any racial discrimination, saying "That's absolutely not true," according to the Times.

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The original jury award to the two officers "outraged police watchdogs," according to KPCC, who report that activists said "it made no sense to reward a shooting that should not have happened." KPCC characterizes the appellate court's decision to reverse the jury verdict as "rare."

"We are reluctant to overturn a jury verdict," the court said, according to KPCC. "However ... the jury here did not have a complete picture of the governing law." The appellate court ruled that not only did the officers fail to prove discrimination or retaliation, but the original jury also did not receive clear instructions that they should focus primarily on the race of the officers involved—and not the black man they shot—in judging whether Beck had acted properly, according to KPCC.