LAPD settles lawsuit with man paralyzed by shooting

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 22, 2000

LOS ANGELES — The City Council approved a $15 million settlement Tuesday with a man shot in the back and paralyzed by police officers who then allegedly planted a gun next to him. 

It is the largest settlement stemming from the LAPD’s ongoing corruption scandal and the largest for police misconduct in the city’s history. 

Javier Francisco Ovando, now 23, agreed to settle because it eliminates the delays and uncertainty of a jury trial, said his attorney, Gregory Moreno. 

“This gives him very good compensation,” he said. “We were looking for a reasonable amount of money for him to get on with his life and put the pieces back together.” 

The award is nearly three times the amount given to 1991 beating victim Rodney King, who was awarded $3.8 million in damages and another $1.6 million for attorneys fees. 

The council approved the Ovando settlement 13-0, bringing to nearly $30 million the amount the city has agreed to pay victims of the corruption scandal. About 70 lawsuits are pending. 

Councilman Mike Feuer said settling with Ovando was the right choice because the city stood “very little chance of prevailing” in a jury trial. 

“And the key question won’t be liability,” he said. “The key question is likely to be simply how much.” 

Mayor Richard Riordan described the settlement as a fair resolution “to a terrible miscarriage of justice. 

“Now we must put this behind us, and look forward to the future by implementing police reforms that ensure this will never happen again,” he said in a statement. Ovando’s case came to symbolize the corruption allegations that centered on the department’s Rampart Division. 

The investigation into incidents between 1995 and 1998 has led to charges being dismissed or overturned in about 100 cases and the convictions last week of three officers. It also was a catalyst for an agreement that provides federal oversight of police department reforms. 

The scandal broke publicly in September 1999 after former officer Rafael Perez’s allegations of misconduct in the Ovando case surfaced. 

Perez said he and former partner Nino Durden were staking out a vacant apartment in October 1996 when they shot Ovando, then a 19-year-old 18th Street gang member. 

Perez has said Durden planted a .22-caliber rifle on Ovando as he lay bleeding from shots to his head and chest. He said the officers had seized the weapon about two weeks earlier. 

Durden has pleaded innocent to attempted murder charges and is awaiting trial. 

Ovando had served more than two years of a 23-year prison term for assaulting a police officer when his conviction was overturned and he was freed last year. His legs remain paralyzed. 

The portion of Ovando’s lawsuit against Perez is still pending, his attorney said. A separate lawsuit on behalf of Ovando’s 3-year-old daughter, Destiny, also is pending, Moreno said. 

City officials said liability for the corruption scandal could cost the city as much as $125 million. 

The Ovando settlement is likely to be the single largest amount the city will pay to an individual victim, Chief Assistant City Attorney Thomas Hokinson said. 

“His is the only one that involves serious injuries plus confinement,” he said. 

In a potentially more serious case of police abuse, Perez called “dirty” a 1996 police shooting that left 19-year-old gang member Juan Saldana dead and two others wounded. Investigators are looking into whether officers might have planted guns. 

The lawsuit by Saldana’s family was dismissed, however, because it was filed after the statute of limitations expired. That decision is now on appeal in federal court, Hokinson said. 

He said the remaining civil suits against the city could be resolved within 18 months, although not all are likely to end in settlements. 

“There are a number of cases we anticipate we will win,” he said.