The city of Los Angeles will not have to pay the legal fees of four police officers accused of the notorious ransacking of four apartments near Exposition Park in 1988, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.
The decision by Judge Bruce R. Geernaert appears to close the books on the so-called Dalton Avenue raid, in which 80 police officers swarmed apartments on Dalton Avenue--leaving them a shambles of smashed windows, broken furniture and pro-police graffiti. The city has paid more than $3.4 million in legal settlements to tenants and landlords who filed civil suits.
Four officers charged with crimes in the raid had asked that their legal bills for their criminal cases, estimated at more than $300,000, be paid by the city. The money would have reimbursed two police unions that fronted the defense costs for Capt. Thomas Elfmont, Sgt. Charles Spicer and Officers Todd Parrick and Charles Wilson.
Elfmont, Spicer and Parrick were acquitted of vandalism and conspiracy after a seven-week trial last year. Wilson pleaded no contest and was fined and placed on probation.
The two police unions--the Police Protective League and the Los Angeles Police Command Officers Assn.--filed a lawsuit claiming that legal fees for all four officers should be paid by the city. The suit cited a provision of the state Labor Code that requires employers to cover costs of an employee if they resulted as "a direct consequence of the discharge of his duties."
But lawyers for the city countered that more specific provisions of the state Government Code freed the city from such an obligation. That code says that "a public entity is not required to provide for the defense of a criminal action or proceeding."
In his decision, Geernaert said the more specific and more recent Government Code should prevail--freeing the city from any liability for legal costs.
Fred Merkin, senior assistant city attorney, said the decision is significant because it upholds the city's longstanding position that it does not have to defend employees in criminal cases.
City officials on Thursday were unable to say how much the criminal defense costs amounted to, but a lawyer for one of the four officers said fees for his client alone probably topped $100,000.
The officers and police union officials could not be reached.