Rohayent Gomez was 13-years-old when he was shot by a police officer in Glassell Park in December 2010, according to City News Service. On the night of the shooting, Officer Victor Abarca and his partner were on patrol looking for signs of gang activity and graffiti. They came upon Gomez and two of his friends before 8 pm. All three boys had air soft pistols that look like real guns but shoot plastic pellets.
A jury Friday handed down a $24-million verdict against the Los Angeles Police Department for the shooting of a teenage boy. The award is believed to be the largest sanction ever against the LAPD for a single event and perhaps the largest of any kind against the department. It comes as the LAPD is trying to stem the number of costly lawsuits brought against it.
Witnesses told the jury that when officers arrived, they drew their weapons. Gomez was hidden behind a parked van reloading his gun, unaware of the police. He was startled when police came around the side of the van. Witnesses said Abarca gave a single command ordering Gomez not to move before firing a single shot through his chest.
The case centered on a December 2010 encounter, in which Officer Victor Abarca and his partner were on patrol in the city’s Glassell Park neighborhood shortly before 8 p.m., according to police records.
The eyewitness accounts were markedly different from the account Abarca gave, according to the Los Angeles Times. Abarca claimed that he gave Gomez repeated warnings to come out from behind the van before he fired. The trajectory of the bullet backed up the eyewitness accounts.
The officers, who told investigators they were in search of graffiti and gang activity, came upon 13-year-old Rohayent Gomez and two of his friends on a street.
Gomez’s attorney, Renaldo Casillas, said the evidence and testimony from two eyewitnesses to the shooting “completely blew apart” Abarca’s account of the shooting.
Casillas said in settlement talks the city offered Gomez $5,000. He said, “It wasn’t even insulting. It was ridiculous. They have no sense of reality. The physical evidence against the officer was truly amazing.”
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck released a statement about the verdict:
“This is a tragedy for all involved, but in particular for the young man injured in this police shooting and for the officer who believed that he was protecting himself and his partner from a real threat. The replica gun [Rohayent Gomez] had been indistinguishable from a real handgun on a dark night. When our officers are confronted with a realistic replica weapon in the field, they have to react in a split second to the perceived threat. If our officers delay or don’t respond to armed suspects, it could cost them their lives.”
In it, he said in the darkness he was unaware he was confronting a teenager and claimed that the boy ignored repeated commands to come out from behind the van.
When he finally complied, Abarca said, the person “had both hands concealed within his sweatshirt and was bent slightly at the waist,” according to the LAPD’s internal investigation into the incident.
Gomez’s attorney Arnaldo Casillas told CNS that Gomez cried when he heard the verdict: “He was in disbelief.
“Since this occurred I have sought legislation that would require making these replica weapons more distinguishable from real firearms. I am encouraging the City Attorney to appeal because I believe the judgment is unwarranted.”]