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Jury awards $1.7 million in fatal police shooting of autistic man

An LAPD officer since fired for dishonesty in an unrelated case is found to have used excessive force and acted in 'a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner.'

January 27, 2011|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

A federal jury Wednesday awarded $1.7 million to the parents of an autistic man killed by a Los Angeles police officer.

Joseph Cruz, who was later fired from the LAPD for dishonesty in an unrelated case, killed Mohammad Usman Chaudhry early on a March morning in 2008. Cruz and his partner had encountered the 21-year-old man laying in the bushes alongside a Hollywood apartment building. Cruz has insisted that Chaudhry tried to attack him with a knife and that he fired his gun in self-defense.

Chaudhry's parents filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Lawyers for the family presented evidence that called into question Cruz's account of the shooting. DNA testing on the knife Cruz claimed that Chaudhry used, for example, showed no evidence he had handled the weapon. On Monday, the jury found unanimously that the ex-officer had used excessive force and acted in "a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner."

John Franklin, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, declined to comment on the verdict or whether the city would appeal. Peter J. Ferguson, who represented Cruz, did not return a call for comment.

The award punctuates the awkward role the city of Los Angeles played in the case.

When Cruz sued the city to get his job back, lawyers for the city argued that he had destroyed his credibility. During the wrongful death trial, however, the Los Angeles Police Department and city attorney's office tried to convince the jury that Cruz was, in fact, credible and his account of the shooting should be believed.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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