County pays $3.3-mil­lion set­tle­ment in shoot­ing

John Berry, 31, who suf­fered from schizophre­nia, was shot 18 times by sher­iff ’s deputies.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Maya Lau maya.lau@la­times.com Twit­ter: @may­alau

Some­thing wasn’t right when John Berry drove up unan­nounced to his family’s home one day two sum­mers ago.

He’d been fired from his job at a pizza par­lor and had been get­ting lit­tle sleep — not a healthy sce­nario for some­one di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia who ap­peared to be off his med­i­ca­tion.

So when Berry’s brother, a sworn law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, called the lo­cal Los An­ge­les County sher­iff’s sta­tion in Lake­wood, he re­quested a men­tal eval­u­a­tion team to try to calm Berry down and trans­port him to med­i­cal care.

In­stead, af­ter deputies re­sponded to the call about an “in­sane per­son” on the res­i­den­tial street where Berry was parked on July 6, 2015, a strug­gle en­sued. Berry was shot 18 times and killed by deputies, ac­cord­ing to a mem­o­ran­dum by the Los An­ge­les County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Last week, the Los An­ge­les County Board of Su­per­vi­sors ap­proved a $3.3-mil­lion set­tle­ment in a wrong­fuldeath law­suit filed by Berry’s mother and other family mem­bers, who al­leged that deputies used ex­ces­sive force against Berry.

Prose­cu­tors de­cided last year not to file any charges against the deputies — An­thony John­son, Michael Bi­to­las, Roberto Solorio and Eric Saave­dra — say­ing they acted in “law­ful self-de­fense and in de­fense of oth­ers” when they shot at Berry to stop him from ram­ming his BMW into one of their fel­low of­fi­cers.

Berry, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors, re­sisted deputies as they tried to pull him out of his ve­hi­cle.

The memo says the 31year-old was pep­per­sprayed, Tased and struck with a ba­ton be­fore he sud­denly backed his car up and knocked over a deputy, lead­ing other deputies to be­lieve the law­man was in dan­ger of be­ing run over.

But Berry’s family said he did not ram his car into a pa­trol ve­hi­cle and that he was un­armed and not act­ing vi­o­lently.

“This is not how you treat the men­tally ill,” Berry’s brother, Chris Berry, 39, said Thurs­day.

“They ab­so­lutely es­ca­lated the sit­u­a­tion,” said Berry, who works as a fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cer at a vet­eran’s psy­chi­atric fa­cil­ity in Long Beach and wit­nessed the en­tire in­ci­dent. “They treated him like he was a sus­pect and they were gonna take him into cus­tody.”

Chris Berry said that al­though the episode eroded his trust in the jus­tice sys­tem, he com­mends the depart­ment for try­ing to im­prove how its deputies han­dle men­tally ill peo­ple.

Depart­ment spokes­woman Ni­cole Nishida sent a state­ment in an email say­ing that the agency con­venes a weekly re­view panel to learn and im­prove from crit­i­cal in­ci­dents, many of which in­volve the men­tally ill. About 70% of in­ci­dents in which deputies use force in­volve peo­ple suf­fer­ing from some form of men­tal ill­ness or sub­stance ad­dic­tion, she said.

A video recorded by a neigh­bor shows deputies strug­gling with some­one in a car be­fore shots are fired, but the shaky clip doesn’t dis­play the pre­cise mo­ment be­fore Berry’s shoot­ing.

The set­tle­ment comes as the depart­ment is try­ing to train its deputies to bet­ter han­dle calls in­volv­ing the men­tally ill. In De­cem­ber, the depart­ment be­gan a new cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion train­ing course, which in­volves 32 hours of in­struc­tion on dif­fer­ent types of men­tal ill­ness and how to de-es­ca­late en­coun­ters. Nishida said 518 deputies have com­pleted the course.

Ev­ery deputy and sergeant as­signed to field op­er­a­tions — which in­cludes pa­trol, tran­sit sta­tions and the parks bureau — is sched­uled to com­plete the course within the next four to five years, said train­ing bureau Capt. Scott Gage.

All deputies al­ready re­ceive 32 hours of ver­bal res­o­lu­tion in­struc­tion just af­ter they fin­ish the academy, he said.

The Board of Su­per­vi­sors voted in Jan­uary to ex­pand the depart­ment’s Men­tal Eval­u­a­tion Teams — spe­cial­ized units of deputies paired with men­tal health clin­i­cians that re­spond to calls in­volv­ing peo­ple be­lieved to be men­tally ill who are threat­en­ing oth­ers or be­ing dis­rup­tive.

The county spent nearly $51 mil­lion in set­tle­ments last fis­cal year to re­solve le­gal claims against the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment. From 2011 to 2016, 74% of the depart­ment’s ex­ces­sive-force pay­outs, which to­taled nearly $89 mil­lion, stemmed from shoot­ings.

JOHN BERRY, prose­cu­tors say, re­sisted deputies as they tried to pull him out of his ve­hi­cle.

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