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City to Pay Shooting Victim $15 Million

LAPD: Council votes 13-0 for record settlement in police misconduct suit brought by Javier Ovando, who was shot, paralyzed and imprisoned.

November 22, 2000|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Approving the largest police misconduct settlement in city history, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday voted 13 to 0 to pay $15 million to Javier Francisco Ovando, who alleged he was shot by two LAPD Rampart officers, left for dead and subsequently framed and falsely imprisoned.

City Atty. James Hahn, who proposed the agreement to the council, called Ovando's mistreatment at the LAPD's hands the "worst case I have ever seen."

Ovando, 23, is paralyzed and must use a wheelchair after he allegedly was shot by LAPD Officer Rafael Perez and his then-partner, Nino Durden, in 1996. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison after the two officers allegedly planted a gun on him and accused him of trying to attack them. Ovando served 2 1/2 years before his conviction was overturned last year.

Ovando said he is relieved the matter is resolved. Asked what he plans to do, he replied: "To continue my life, to live my life."

"I'm happy it's over," Ovando said.

According to a confidential memo presented to the council Tuesday, Hahn estimated the city's "jury exposure" and other expenses on the case could reach nearly $23 million if the council chose to fight the matter in court.

"If this case was in front of a jury, a jury could get very angry," Hahn, a candidate for mayor, said after the council vote. "And angry juries can send verdicts to the stratosphere."

Although Ovando has been described by police as a tattooed, former member of the 18th Street gang, he appeared Tuesday at a news conference looking clean-cut and even a little shy. He smiled broadly twice: once when reporters asked about his mother, who lives in Honduras, and once when discussing his 3-year-old daughter, Destiny.

"I want to give my daughter all my love," he said.

Ovando's attorney, Gregory W. Moreno, said settling with the city was "the reasonable thing to do." "We wanted to make sure he would have money for the rest of his life for all his medical needs," Moreno said. "This is a very good settlement for him.

"He's been through a lot of anxiety. I think that the healing Javier needs emotionally--hopefully, he'll be able to get some physical healing, with the proper treatment--will start."

The payout represents the single largest police misconduct settlement in Los Angeles' history, and will bring the amount the city has agreed to pay so far to plaintiffs in suits growing out of the Rampart police corruption scandal to nearly $30 million.

For many people, Ovando's case has come to symbolize the entire Rampart scandal.

As part of a plea agreement in his own drug theft case, Perez told investigators probing alleged misconduct by LAPD officers about the Ovando shooting. In exchange, he received a five-year term for stealing about $1 million of cocaine from a police evidence locker. Durden, meanwhile, is awaiting trial on attempted murder charges in connection with the Ovando incident. His trial is expected to start next month.

According to Perez, he and Durden were on an undercover stakeout in a vacant apartment west of downtown Los Angeles when they shot Ovando, then 19.

Perez said he was looking out a window when he turned and saw Durden talking with the unarmed Ovando. Durden drew his gun and fired at Ovando, Perez told investigators. Reacting to his partner's actions, Perez said he did the same.

As Ovando lay bleeding, Durden ran out of the apartment and returned with a .22-caliber rifle with a high-capacity "banana" magazine, which he placed next to the young man, Perez alleged. Perez said he and Durden had seized the gun about two weeks earlier, and that Durden had filed off the serial number.

Council members who attended the closed session Tuesday said the city lawmakers made their decision with little debate.

"The facts spoke for themselves," Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski. "It was in the best interest of everyone involved to settle this case. The city attorney really presented a strong argument."

Councilman Mike Feuer, who heads the council's budget committee, said the settlement strikes a balance between "doing justice on the one hand and doing our best to protect the taxpayer on the other."

"The bottom line is, clearly, there was some egregious misconduct on the part of the Police Department here and we have an extremely, severely injured individual who has sued the city," Feuer said.

The settlement calls for the city to pay Ovando in four installments over the next 30 months. The first installment of $6 million would go out before Dec. 31. Meanwhile, about 70 other Rampart suits still are pending.

Mayor Richard Riordan called the settlement a "fair and acceptable resolution to a terrible miscarriage of justice."

"This settlement brings closure to a tragic and unfortunate incident, and was reached after a thorough review by experienced attorneys for the city and the plaintiff," Riordan said. "Now we must put this behind us, and look forward to the future by implementing police reforms that ensure this will never happen again."

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