LOS ANGELES (CN) – The city of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit from the family of a woman who police officers fatally shot while she was suffering a mental health episode.
The Los Angeles City Council voted 12 to 2 to approve the settlement agreement on Tuesday.
Gary Appleby, Beverly Hills-based attorney for the woman’s husband, said the plaintiffs reluctantly went forward with the settlement agreement.
“She was a helpless woman,” said Appleby in a phone interview. “Officers could have taken other precautions.”
He added, “It’s a tragic event and we’re just happy to see some kind of closure.”
Police officers shot Norma Guzman while she was pacing in front of a barbershop in downtown Los Angeles in September 2015. Community members knew she struggled with her mental health, as she had been the subject of several mental evaluation contacts from the police before the deadly incident.
According to police reports, the 37-year-old Guzman brandished a blade from an electric carving knife as they exited their squad car. Both officers shot Guzman from about six feet away, according to incident reports. She later died at a nearby hospital.
At the time of the incident, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said officers followed department policy when they drew their guns. The District Attorney’s office agreed with Beck that the officers, Samuel Briggs and Antonio McNeely, were fearful for their lives and acted “lawfully and in self-defense,” according to an incident report. However, in 2016, a Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners report found that one department office failed to implement proper planning prior to the officers’ arrival at the call.
In the family’s October 2015 lawsuit, they said officers shot Guzman less than 10 seconds after exiting their squad car.
A separate lawsuit filed by Guzman’s husband, Marco Contreras, and her son was joined with the family’s case.
Los Angeles-based attorney Christian Pereira, former counsel for the family, said in an email that the $1.95 million vote from the City Council was a “reasonable” amount “for the bad police work that resulted in killing someone’s mother.”
“Hopefully, the City will continue to move in the right direction like they have with their new policy of de-escalation and handle these things with better training and tactics rather than verdicts and settlements,” Pereira said. “At the end of the day, it’s a human tragedy on all sides.”