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L.A. County settles with injured former youth probationer

April 30, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Los Angeles County supervisors have agreed to pay $7 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a former probation youth who became a quadriplegic after he was attacked by youths at a county-run juvenile hall in Sylmar three years ago.

Raymond A. Amande, 20, sued the county, the probation chief and four staff members at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, alleging that they failed to protect him from being threatened and attacked by gang members for refusing to join their gang. Amande's neck was broken in the assault April 21, 2006.

His attorney, Michael Louis Kelly, of Los Angeles-based Kirtland & Packard, said Amande plans to attend college.

"Very happy with it," Kelly said of his client's reaction to the settlement, who was not available for comment Wednesday. "It's going to allow him to move on with his life."

On the day of the attack, Amande was in a recreation room with about 35 other probationers watching a movie, Kelly said. A group of youths slammed Amande into the concrete floor, and the single probation officer in the room at the time attempted to intervene but failed to stop the attack, according to the suit. Closed-circuit video cameras in the room were not working.

Immediately after the attack, Amande was taken to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. He was later transferred to rehabilitation facilities but was unable to recover the use of his arms and legs and is confined to a wheelchair, Kelly said.

The settlement, signed March 27 and approved by supervisors Tuesday, did not require the county or probation officials to admit wrongdoing. It did require the Probation Department to present a corrective action plan to the supervisors.

However, officials with probation and the county's chief executive's office said Wednesday they could not release that plan because they were required to protect the names of youths involved. They said they were unable to reach county counsel to determine whether they could release a redacted report.

Probation Chief Robert Taylor said in an e-mail that the "only recommendation of note" was that his department repair its closed-circuit video cameras, which were "outdated and inoperable." Camera upgrades are pending, said probation spokeswoman Kerri Webb.

"Probation staff did not commit some egregious violation," in connection with the attack on Amande, Taylor said. "This was caused by other minors, and staff responded quickly and appropriately, but the injury had been sustained."

No probation staff members were disciplined in connection with the attack, Webb said. Kelly said Los Angeles police investigated the attack but did not charge any of the eight youths allegedly involved.

Even before Amande was injured, county probation officials had agreed to improve conditions at the county's 22 juvenile camps and halls after federal investigations revealed widespread understaffing and youth-on-youth violence, among other problems.

Webb said the department has increased staffing and improved staff training since the 2006 incident.

"There is, however, no guarantee that either of these changes would have changed the outcome had they been already in place," she said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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