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Anaheim Agrees to Pay $175,000 in Wrongful Death Case : Lawsuit: Despite the settlement, city officials say police officer was justified in shooting Brea drug suspect.

August 18, 1993|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — The City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man shot and killed by a police officer who has been involved in four fatal shootings in the last four years.

Despite the settlement, city officials said Officer Lee Smith was justified in shooting drug suspect Gregory Rosenberger, 25, of Brea, on Oct. 10, 1989. The district attorney has cleared the officer of any criminal wrongdoing in that incident, as well as the three other shootings.

City Atty. Jack White said the settlement was reached to protect city coffers.

"While we strongly believe the city has a good case, we believe the Rosenbergers make very sympathetic witnesses and in order to protect the public treasury, we've decided to settle," White said. "To try this case would have been a roll of the dice, so it was best to settle."

Settlement talks began two weeks ago when it appeared that the case was on the verge of a mistrial because jurors had read a newspaper article detailing Smith's involvement in three other fatal shootings. Testimony on the other shootings was to be excluded from the case, attorneys said.

Evidence presented at the trial showed that Smith shot Rosenberger six times--three times in the back--during a scuffle. Smith testified that he feared for his life when Rosenberger grabbed the grip of his holstered gun.

White said the city's case was strong because Rosenberger grabbed the officer's gun, but the fact that "there were six bullets in (Rosenberger) would not have been good for our side" in a trial.

Rosenberger's mother, Colleen, said she and her husband agreed to the settlement because they didn't want to go through the emotional pain of trying the case again before another jury.

"I don't think I could have survived going through it again," she said.

Colleen Rosenberger added that she believes officer Smith is a danger to the community and should be removed from the Police Department.

"I just hope that no other parent has to go through what my husband and I have gone through because of this officer," she said.

With the settlement, Colleen Rosenberger said the family "is accepting what happened and getting on with our lives."

Smith, a 10-year veteran of the department, could not be reached for comment. His superiors and colleagues described him as a level-headed and responsible officer.

Currently, Smith is the focus of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation for his actions in the three other fatal shootings. The Justice Department has determined that there are no prosecutable violations in the Rosenberger shooting.

The other fatalities involving Smith were:

* The Feb. 2, 1989, shooting of Robert Vincent Edson Jr., who led the officer on a 45-minute car chase and then appeared to go for a weapon in his waistband when cornered by officers. Edson was unarmed.

* The Sept. 8, 1989, shooting death of Dennis William Smith, who allegedly shot and wounded an officer. Officer Smith was part of a tactical police assault team that killed the suspect.

* The Dec. 9, 1991, shooting death of a burglary suspect. The man, identified as Antonio V. Galindo, broke into Smith's condominium. He was armed with a knife.

Times correspondent Terry Spencer contributed to this report.

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