The city of Los Angeles has settled a federal class-action lawsuit filed in 2011 that claimed its police department had subjected ordinary citizens in dozens of neighborhoods to unlawful curfews in an attempt to fight criminal gangs.
As much as $30 million will go to provide job training for gang members, thanks to the settlement, the Los Angeles Times is reporting.
On Wednesday, the City Council approved the deal unanimously, which still requires approval by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who has presided over the case.
“This is taking an injustice that never should have happened and turning it into an opportunity to start over,” Anne Richardson, one of the attorneys in the lawsuit, told the Times.
The suit originated from the June 2009 arrest of Christian Rodriguez, who at the time was a teenager living in a housing project that was the territory of the Culver City Boys gang. Although he wasn’t involved with the gang, his older brother did have ties to the group, and LAPD officers arrested Rodriguez for violating curfew while hanging out with friends at a handball court.
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The city was fighting large a large gang problem through dozens of injunctions that had been placed on neighborhoods across the city where gangs were known to be active. Among other things, the injunctions prohibited gang members and known associates from congregating or wearing certain clothing known as gang identifications.
In 26 of the neighborhoods, a 10 p.m. curfew was included.
“Because I was wrongly labeled as a gang member,” Rodriguez said in a statement, according to the Times, “I couldn't even be outside helping my mom with the groceries at night.”
The criminal charges against Rodriguez were dropped, but attorneys filed the lawsuit stating that the curfew was illegal, citing a 2007 California appeals court that found that a similar curfew in Oxnard had violated residents’ due process.
“I got involved in this case to help others who like me,” Rodriguez said in the statement, “who did nothing wrong but unjustly live in constant fear of doing something that might be perceived by a member of LAPD as a violation.”
He added, “I want my 2-year-old daughter to grow up without that fear.”
Eventually, LAPD officials stopped enforcing the curfews, but they kept fighting the lawsuit in the court system.
In a preliminary ruling last year, Gee indicated that she would instruct the jury that every person in the class-action suit’s class – some 57,000 individuals – would have to be awarded some money.
City attorney Mike Feuer sent a confidential memo to City Council members urging them to approve the settlement. In it, he said, “The settlement creates opportunities for gang members to obtain basic job skills … that can turn their lives around, and does so without giving any direct payments to gang members.”
According to the L.A. Times, the memo mentioned that lawyers for the plaintiffs had been demanding nearly $30 million in direct payments.
Under the settlement, the city will contribute at least $4.5 million to the job training fund – distributed to non-profit groups – and as much as $30 million depending on how many people sign up for training.
The city would also pay the attorney’s fees for the other side – as much as $5 million, according to Feuer’s memo.