LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The city of Los Angeles on Wednesday agreed to pay $15 million dollars to the family of a teenager paralyzed in 2010 when he was shot by a police officer who mistook a pellet gun the youth was holding for a real firearm.
Rohayent Gomez Eriza was 13 when he was struck by a single bullet while playing near his home with two friends, according to court documents.
His family filed a lawsuit in 2011, saying the teen was “subjected to excessive force” by police officer Victor Abarca in the form of a gunshot that left the boy with “serious and permanent physical and psychological injuries.”
The bullet stuck Gomez Eriza’s spinal cord, rendering him paralyzed from the chest down and unable to care for himself or work, according to court documents.
A jury ruled in favor of Gomez Eriza’s family in 2012, awarding them $24 million.
The city appealed, saying the details of the case made the judgment unwarranted.
“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,” Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement following the 2012 judgment.
A police spokeswoman on Wednesday said there was no immediate comment on the $15 million settlement.
Gomez Eriza was holding a replica 9 millimeter Berretta handgun when he was shot the evening of Dec. 16, 2010, while playing with two friends who also had pellet guns, according to police.
Two patrol officers approached the youths, and Gomez Eriza pulled the gun from his pocket before Abarca fired, police said.
Following an investigation, the department and city officials determined the shooting was “in policy.”
Attorneys for Gomez Eriza have criticized the LAPD for deeming the shooting justified, and said the boys, who were playing cops and robbers in an illuminated street, were not engaged in any illegal activity when they were stopped.
Gomez Eriza’s shooting, and the death in 2013 of a Santa Rosa, California teen who was holding a replica AK-47 when he was killed by police, prompted debate over fake guns.
Governor Jerry Brown last year signed the “the Imitation Firearm Safety Act” which requires toy guns to be painted a bright color, or to feature florescent strips to make them easily distinguishable as fakes.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Robert Birsel