A Los Angeles police officer who is expected to be a key witness in the federal civil rights trial stemming from last year's North Hollywood shootout has retired from the department amid a pending internal investigation, the officer's lawyer said Wednesday.
Officer John Futrell retired, in part, to establish a legal defense fund, said attorney Bradley Gage. Futrell has hired Gage to assist the city attorney's office in defending him against the suit filed on behalf of the children of slain bank robber Emil Matasareanu.
"It is very expensive to defend one of these cases," said Gage, whose pay would come from donations to Futrell's defense fund. "There is the potential that his lifelong savings could be wiped out by an adverse judgment."
The suit, filed by Venice attorney Stephen Yagman, contends that police killed Matasareanu by denying him medical treatment in the wake of the bloody Feb. 28, 1997, shootout. An internal police department review, however, concluded that all officers involved acted within policy.
Futrell, whose resignation took effect Sept. 20, had been assigned to home since Aug. 7 for allegedly deserting his post in an unrelated incident earlier this year, then lying to cover up his actions, Gage said. But Gage said the charges against the 26-year officer are untrue.
Yagman, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, argued earlier that Futrell's problems with the department could weaken his credibility on the witness stand.
Meanwhile, the start date for the federal trial, which has been postponed once already, remains uncertain. It was postponed initially because Yagman injured his back and had to undergo surgery.
Yagman has since been suspended by the State Bar Assn. from practicing law in California for one year, effective Oct. 17. That suspension stems from an unrelated case in which he was found to have overbilled a client.
It is unclear what effect, if any, that suspension would have on the North Hollywood shootout trial going forward.