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City Urged to Settle Suit by Man Police Accidentally Shot

August 16, 1986|RICHARD SIMON | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles city attorney's office has recommended that the city settle for $525,000 a lawsuit filed by a robbery suspect who was left paralyzed after he was accidentally shot by police while trying to surrender.

The settlement, which will come before a City Council committee for approval Tuesday, stems from the 1980 shooting of Phillip H. Holt, 27, of Watts.

According to a city attorney's report, when police attempted to stop Holt in Hollywood for driving a car without a license plate, the officers did not know that Holt had just robbed a couple on the street at gunpoint.

High-Speed Chase

Holt, apparently thinking the police knew about the robbery, sped away, triggering a high-speed pursuit that was soon joined by Sgt. Willie L. Pannell in a separate police car. Pannell, with the help of another unit, stopped Holt in Beverly Hills.

The report said Pannell approached Holt's car with his revolver drawn and ordered Holt, who had his hands raised above his head, out of the car. It said Holt did not comply immediately and that it occurred to Pannell that this was because if Holt removed his hands from over his head to open the door, it might be misinterpreted as a move toward a weapon, so Pannell advanced to open the door himself.

When he did, the report said, "the door offered less resistance than Sgt. Pannell had anticipated, and it suddenly opened. Sgt. Pannell lost his balance, tensed and stumbled backwards. As he did so, he accidentally squeezed the trigger and discharged one round from his service revolver."

Struck in the Chest

The bullet struck Holt, who still had his hands raised, in the left side of the upper chest and lodged against his spinal cord, permanently paralyzing him from the chest down, the report said.

A police review board found the shooting "accidental, yet out of policy."

"The board was critical of Pannell for approaching the vehicle on his own, as opposed to letting subordinate field officers do so, and for having his finger on the trigger, instead of alongside the trigger guard as proper procedure called for," the report said.

Holt pleaded guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Since Holt was clearly trying to surrender when he was shot, noted Deputy City Atty. Thomas A. Gutierrez in his report, there would be little value in arguing that he had brought the injury on himself.

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