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Judge tosses $120-million suit against LAPD in freeway shooting

April 30, 2013|By Andrew Blankstein

A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a $120-million lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department by the family of a man who was fatally shot on the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills following a brief pursuit.

The family of Abdul Arian of Winnetka sued the city and the department last April after eight officers fired more than 90 rounds at the unarmed 19-year-old who had led them on a high-speed freeway pursuit and called 911 to threaten them with a gun, authorities said.

Attorney Jeffrey Galen, who represented Arian's family in the federal suit alleging excessive force and wrongful death, negligence and battery, expressed disappointment in the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner.

"In the discovery phase of this case, it was established that the officers in pursuit were never told that Mr. Arian was allegedly in possession of a gun, contrary to what was told to the public by the LAPD on the day of the shooting," Galen said.

He also noted that experts retained by the family determined that officers "should have clearly been able to distinguish that the object in Mr. Arian's hands was a cellphone and not a weapon."

Officials with the Los Angeles city attorney's office praised the court's decision and said police had acted in defense of the public and themselves. They believed Arian to be armed, officials said, based on his conduct leading up to the pursuit and the fact that he took a shooting stance with what appeared to be a weapon in his hands.

"Too often our police officers must defend themselves in the face of grave threats, perceived or otherwise, and in this case --  tragic as it may have been -- their defense was justified," City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said in a statement. 

"While we welcome Judge Klausner’s decision, we cannot forget that this episode is a tragedy for the Arian family and the Los Angeles Police Department."

The shooting unfolded on live television the night of April 11, 2012,  after Arian refused to pull over when police tried to stop him for erratic driving. He led police on a chase onto the 101 Freeway before turning his car and stopping across eastbound lanes. 

Arian jumped out of the car and ran. Then he turned and, police said, assumed a "shooting stance" -- raising his arms and appearing to point a weapon, prompting them to open fire.

No gun was found at the scene, but police released statements Arian made to a 911 dispatcher in which he claimed to have a weapon.

"I have a gun," Arian said. "I've been arrested before for possession of destructive devices; I'm not afraid of the cops."

LAPD officials promised a thorough investigation that would review several factors related to the incident, including communication tactics and whether the large number of rounds fired endangered other freeway motorists. 

Arian's lawyer said he was considering an appeal.

"The LAPD took the life of an unarmed teenager who, despite what was reported by the officers, posed no deadly threat," Galen said. "For the officers to fire close to 100 rounds of bullets ending this young man's life is unfathomable."

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Twitter: @anblanx |Facebook | Google +

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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