In the rubber-stamp LA City Council, there are posers and phonies, blusterers and know-nothings and then there is Paul Krekorian — the ambitious, articulate chief apologist given to creative use of his lawyer’s mind to defend the indefensible.
Back in April, Krekorian went ballistic sounding like a poser-phony-blustering know-nothing to drive one more negative headline into the heart of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s failing campaign for District Attorney.
Supported by the City Claims Board, Trutanich had recommended a $4.5 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by a ex-con gang member who in 2005 was left a quadriplegic with limited use of his hands when LAPD officers shot him multiple times in the back and side, mistaking in the darkness at night a cell phone in 19-year-old suspect’s hand for a gun.
The officers were cleared of wrongdoing by the Inspector General and the Police Commission but when the case went before a federal court civil jury in February, the verdict was unanimous: The LAPD violated Robert Contreras’ civil rights and used excessive force on an unarmed man.
The judge excluded evidence of criminal history, membership in the Florencia 13 gang and similar evidence that could have been damaging to Contreras.
Given that, the unanimous verdict and the likelihood Contreras could be awarded $10 million or even more, Trutanich negotiated a $4.5 million settlement and recommended the Council approve it.
“It could always be more. That’s why you settle,” Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said at the time. “The jury ruled against us. Their lawyer is asking for a lot of money.”
Krekorian, newly appointed Budget Committee Chair, wouldn’t buy it persuaded a majority of the Council to back his view to reject the deal.
“It would be a cold day in hell when I would be supportive of giving a boatload of money to somebody who is involved in shooting at the citizens of Los Angeles,” Krekorian said. “I just think it’s fundamentally wrong.”
“We have almost 10,000 men and women in the police department, who on any given day could be put in a similar situation and could be faced with a life or death circumstance. It would send the wrong message to those officers if we said, despite all your training … if you shoot and a jury finds that somehow you violated the civil rights of the suspect of the case, we’re going to roll over and do what the jury says is right rather than what we think is right.”
”It sends a terrible message to police officers … not just the two officers involved, but to every officer in the LAPD, who could be faced with the same sort of situation. I could never live with myself voting to support a payment to someone who put officers’ lives at risk. There’s a risk, no doubt about it. But this jury said it thinks these officers violated this man’s civil rights. And I think we should send a message that we think this jury is dead wrong.”
The risk was real enough alright.
Last week, a jury awarded Contreras $5.7 million with the judge likely to award fees to his attorneys that will bring the bill to about $2 million more than the settlement offer that Krekorian chose to reject.
Instead of admitting he made a mistake and wasted $2 million the city desperately as it slashed services to the public and tries to squeeze concession from city workers, Krekorian was unrepentant.
“If the city has to pay some more to show that we stood up and supported our police officers when they did nothing wrong then so be it,” Krekorian . “It’s money well spent.”
For his part, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on the council to approve the settlement, saying through press secretary Peter Sanders: “As unfortunate as this may be, the city could have been liable for a significantly greater amount.
The next day Sanders sang a different tune: ”The mayor agrees with Councilman Krekorian that the claims board made a mistake in concurring with the city attorney that the $4.5 million settlement to a man convicted for participating in a drive by shooting was appropriate. Given the facts in this case, we’d rather take our chances on appeal.”
So take your pick fewer books in the still partially closed libraries, more park closures, fewer firefighters — or maybe the mayor, Krekorian and the seven Council members who sided with them should do the honorable thing and cut their enormous staffs to cover the $2 million they cost taxpayers.