A Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused Monday to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the city violated the civil rights of trucker Reginald O. Denny and two other victims by pulling police forces out of a neighborhood where rioting erupted on April 29, 1992, leaving citizens at the mercy of their assailants.
Judge John Leahy ruled that the city and the Police Department are not immune from potential liability in the lawsuit, which alleges that police forces withdrew from Florence and Normandie avenues in the early hours of rioting, allowing the violence to escalate.
Denny attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. has argued that the Police Department followed a policy of racial discrimination and redeployed its forces to protect predominantly white neighborhoods. Florence and Normandie, in a largely black and Latino neighborhood, was a flash point of the worst rioting in Los Angeles history.
Assistant City Atty. Annette Keller had argued that previous rulings have found that cities and city officials are largely immune from liability for the illegal activities of its residents.
"Can a governmental agency and its officers succeed . . . with an argument that they are immune or that they have no duty to protect?" Leahy wrote. "I do not think so."
Saying she will appeal Leahy's ruling, Keller added that she continues "to be surprised that the judge won't apply the statutory immunities to this case. It's the first time a judge has ruled like that. It's puzzling, at a minimum. He's charting his own course here."
Eric Ferrer, an attorney in Cochran's office, said Monday: "We're just very happy about the judge's ruling and not entirely surprised by what he did. Hopefully we can move forward and try to bring this case to some resolution as soon as possible."