L.A. to pay $2.85 million for black man's death in police custody

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 05, 2015 4:59 PM

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Attorneys for the city of Los Angeles have agreed to pay $2.85 million to the family of a black grandfather who died in police custody after being shot with an electric stun gun and placed in a choke hold, according to court records.

A clerk for the Los Angeles City Council said its finance and budget committee would consider the tentative settlement in a closed-door session on Monday and would decide whether to recommend approval by the city council as a whole.

The settlement comes amid heightened scrutiny of the use of force by police, particularly against minorities, after numerous high-profile killings of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement officials across the United States since last year.

The family of Vachel Howard, 56, brought a wrongful death lawsuit in March 2013 against the city of Los Angeles, three police officers and Police Chief Charlie Beck.

The complaint said Howard was in a Los Angeles jail on June 4, 2012, when the officers - Richard Fox, Maryann Bunag, and Juan Romero - restrained him and used a stun gun on him more than five times. The suit says Romero also applied a "fatal choke hold."

The suit says nursing staff did not treat Howard until he was handcuffed and placed in a hobble restraint. Howard was then taken to a hospital, but police did not tell staff he had been choked and he was pronounced dead, court records said.

"Mr. Howard posed no imminent threat of death or physical injury to the officers present, or to anyone else. The use of deadly force against Mr. Howard by defendants under these circumstances was both unconstitutional and violated clearly established law that would have been known to any reasonable police officer," the suit said.

As part of the settlement, the defendants admitted to no wrongdoing against Howard, described in his lawsuit as a "loving son, brother, father, and grandfather" who was athletic and enjoyed playing the saxophone, baseball and restoring classic cars.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, declined to comment on Monday, saying the case was ongoing.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department did not immediately comment on the suit or provide details on the death, but the LAPD has consistently disputed the claims in court filings.

(Writing and additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)