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USC Students Get $450,000 Settlement In Suit Alleging Racial Bias By Police At House Party

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The L.A. City Council has agreed to a $450,000 settlement of a lawsuit in which six USC students claimed that police had used excessive force in stopping an off-campus party, reports the L.A. Times. In the suit, they'd claimed racial bias because the LAPD had allegedly shut down a party of predominately black students, while overlooking a party of mostly white students that was across the street.

The incident happened in the early hours of May 4, 2013 at a house by West 23rd and Hoover streets. A neighbor had called the police to complain about the noise. Police arrived at approximately 2 a.m., with dozens more coming later in riot gear. A skirmish line was set up on Hoover Street. Six people were arrested at the scene. Christian Sutton, one of the students detained, said he was tackled by an officer as he was recording the raid on his phone. Nate Howard, then a USC senior who'd helped host the party, said he was handcuffed, pushed against a wall, and placed in a squad car when he asked officers about what was going on, NBC 4 reported. Students also claimed that a party of mostly-white students—located just across the street— was overlooked by the police.

Officers later said that the crowd of party-goers had grown angry and raucous, and that at least one bottle was thrown at officers, prompting them to adopt riot gear.

In the suit, six students claimed that the officers had violated their civil rights. A jury sided with the plaintiffs this June, saying that several officers used excessive force and did not have probable cause for the arrests. Jurors, however, said that racial bias was not evident. Fred Dorton, an attorney representing the students, took to Facebook to applaud the verdict:

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3 years ago I filed an excessive force and unlawful arrest complaint against the LAPD for unlawfully arresting, and using excessive force against USC students. Yesterday, the jury sent a message to the City and the LAPD that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.

...

Today, just before we entered the punitive damages phase of the trial (the jury already determined the officers acted with malice) the City came to their senses and offered to settle. Apparently they didn't get the memo before trial.

He also claimed that "attorneys for the City of LA told me a federal jury would never give a verdict in favor of my clients."

The raid sparked a campus-wide backlash. Two days after the raid, about 80 students gathered around the Tommy Trojan statue on campus to protest what they claimed was racial-profiling, Neon Tommy reported. At the demonstration, some students said that the police had been more watchful of black students after a 2012 shooting at a USC Halloween party. A day later, more than 700 people—including students and some police officers—attended a forum on campus to discuss the incident, KPCC reported.

"We've looked at this, and there are no indications at this point that this was race based," Capt. Paul Snell of LAPD's Southwest Division said at the forum. Students, however, remained skeptical. Sarah Tither-Kaplan, who hosted the predominately-white party across the street, said that no one from her gathering had been arrested. "These students were not treated with respect," Tither-Kaplan said. "My house was treated with respect. The only difference between the two parties was that racial component."

The incident also highlighted the use of camera phones during police activity. Several students had recorded the scene and shared the footage online: