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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Concord Settles Police Shooting Suit for $1.2M

The suburban Bay Area city of Concord will pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit claiming police conspired with prosecutors to "execute" a 21-year-old man and cover up his murder.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The suburban Bay Area city of Concord will pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit claiming police conspired with prosecutors to "execute" a 21-year-old man and cover up his murder.

John and Tammy Burns say police shot and killed their unarmed son, Charles Burns, in Antioch on May 10, 2013, after he fled from a truck being pulled over as part of a sting operation. The parents say their son had stopped to surrender to police when he was shot.

Noah Blechman, a private attorney representing the city, said Concord settled the case weeks before a trial was set to begin on March 19 to avoid additional litigation costs.

"We were looking at a lengthy trial involving six officers, experts, so essentially it was the city's excess insurance authority who wanted to resolve the case because of the significant cost of litigation," said Blechman, who works for the firm McNamara, Ney, Beatty, Slattery, Borges & Ambacher in Pleasant Hill, California.

The Concord City Council approved the $1.2 million settlement in a closed-door session on Feb. 27.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler approved a joint stipulation to voluntarily dismiss the case with prejudice.

The Burns sued 22 officials and officers from the cities of Antioch, Concord and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office in February 2014.

According to the lawsuit, Charles Burns was riding in a car driven by co-plaintiff Bobby Lawrence when several unmarked police cars forced the car to a stop. Lawrence said he was hauled out of the car, assaulted and illegally detained for a prolonged period of time.

Burns fled the car and “jogged approximately 20 feet” before stopping and surrendering to police, according to the lawsuit. Three officers then lined up “in firing squad" fashion, unloaded their weapons, continued firing after Burns fell to the ground, released a police dog to maim his "lifeless body," and then fired two more rounds "out of pure malice and spite," according to the Burns' original 19-page complaint.

Blechman said the shooting was justified because Burns was reaching for what appeared to be a weapon as he turned toward the officers.

"He wasn't acting like an unarmed person," Blechman said.

Police say Burns was holding a cellphone when he was shot and carrying methamphetamine and ecstasy in his waistband, which led to the discovery of 1.5 pounds of meth, an illegal gun and $17,000 in cash at his home the day after his death.

The family's attorney, Peter Johnson, who could not be reached by phone on Tuesday, previously called the police account “full of flat-out lies" and accused police of coordinating with each other to cover up their alleged misconduct.

The Burns say police fabricated evidence and used false statements to identify Burns as an associate of a criminal gang, the Bay Boys, which was reportedly involved in dealing meth.

Blechman says the plaintiffs never presented any evidence to support those allegations.

Earlier this month, Burns' father, John Burns told Bay Area TV news station KRON 4 that the police shooting was "uncalled for" and that his son was a good man.

“I don’t know why they messed with him like they did," Burns said. "He worked, he helped me work on bikes. He worked at Safeway. It was uncalled for what they did.”

In November, Beeler dismissed co-plaintiff Bobby Lawrence's claims of excessive force and unlawful detention. She also dismissed the city of Concord as a defendant, but she refused to rule out claims of wrongful death, battery and excessive force against six individual officers.

Last year, the Burns also settled claims against a Contra Costa prosecutor, Kevin Bell, who was accused of making false statements on a police warrant that led to Charles Burns being "falsely" identified as a gang member. The Burns also reached a settlement with the city of Antioch in October 2016, according to court records.

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