Officer shot teen in park playing with toy handgun
|Excessive Force, Civil Rights - Police as Defendant|
|Rohayent Gomez Eriza, a minor, by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, Maria de Jesus Eriza Duque v. Victor Abarca and Los Angeles Police Department, No. BC 453870|
|Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA|
- Arnoldo Casillas; Gregory W. Moreno & Associates; Montebello, CA, for Maria de Jesus Eriza Duque, Rohayent Gomez Eriza
- Christopher Moreno; Gregory W. Moreno & Associates; Montebello, CA, for Rohayent Gomez Eriza, Maria de Jesus Eriza Duque
- Liz Holacawicz; Life Care Planning; Carlsbad, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- John Gardiner Ph.D.; Forensic Engineering; Laguna Hills, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- Kimberly BeDell M.D.; Physical Medicine; Long Beach, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- Eliazar Nussbaum M.D.; Pediatric Pulmonology; Long Beach, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- Toni Gonzalez Ph.D.; Psychology/Counseling; Pasadena, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- Tim Lanning; Economics; Santa Ana, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- Roger Clark P.E.; Police Practices & Procedures; Santee, CA called by: Arnoldo Casillas, Christopher Moreno
- Elizabeth T. Fitzgerald; Office of City Attorney; Los Angeles, CA, for Victor Abarca, Los Angeles Police Department
- Suzi Kim M.D.; Physical Rehabilitation; Long Beach, CA called by: Elizabeth Fitzgerald
- Harry Markel; Police Practices & Procedures; Los Angeles, CA called by: Elizabeth Fitzgerald
- Self-insured for Victor Abarca and Los Angeles Police Department
On Dec. 16, 2010, at 8 p.m., plaintiff Rohayent Gomez Eriza, age 13, and his friends were playing a game of cops and robbers with toy guns in the 3000 block of Verduco Roard in Glassell Park. Los Angeles Police Officer Victor Abarca was on routine patrol with his partner when they came upon them. Rohayent was standing behind a parked van. He claimed that Abarca came around the side of the van and gave a command for Rohayent not to move and then fired a single shot when the boy took a step out from behind the van. Rohayent was hit in the chest and was rendered paralyzed.
Rohayent's mother, Maria de Jesus Eriza Duque, acting on his behalf, sued Abarca for negligence and excessive force and the police department for vicarious liability.
The plaintiffs' expert biomechanical engineer testified that the bullet's trajectory did not match the officer's account of the shooting. The expert said that physical evidence indicated that the plaintiff's left shoulder was forward; that the trajectory of the bullet was left to right and downward; and that the plaintiff had to be standing about 3 feet to the officer's left. The expert said that put the plaintiff directly at the corner of the van, where he testified that he had stepped out from before he was shot.
Abarca claimed that Rohayent ignored repeated commands to come out from behind the van. Abarca claimed that when the plaintiff finally complied, he saw Rohayent holding a toy gun that he assumed to be real. Abarca claimed that he feared for his life and drew his weapon and fired.
Defense counsel contended that the plaintiff's mother purchased his toy gun and was therefore comparatively negligent. Defense counsel further argued that the gun looks similar to a Beretta 9-mm handgun. Defense counsel maintained that the replica gun was indistinguishable from the real firearm on the dark night of the incident.
Rohayent was rushed to Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. Doctors determined that he sustained a single shot to his upper left shoulder and through his left clavicle that punctured the top part of his left lung. The bullet then tore through the T-3 and T-4 vertebrae and severed his spinal cord. He was in the hospital for three weeks during which he was intubated and underwent a lobectomy to remove the upper left lobe in his lung.
The plaintiff was paralyzed from the chest down. After he was discharged from the hospital, Rohayent spent three months in a rehabilitation center.
The plaintiff's medical experts testified that Rohayent is permanently paralyzed and will remain in a wheelchair the rest of his life. Plaintiff's counsel argued that Rohayent continues to have respiratory problems caused by his long intubation period in the hospital. Plaintiff's counsel further claimed that Rohayent sustained scarring in his bronchial tubes that makes it difficult for him to clear out mucus from his chest. He will need ongoing respiratory monitoring.
The defense did not dispute the injuries.
The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff, finding that Abarca had used excessive force and was negligent in his decision to shoot. The jury determined that Abarca was 80 percent negligent, the plaintiff's mother was 15 percent negligent and Rohayent was 5 percent negligent. The jury awarded $24 million, which was reduced to $19.2 million.
Rohayent Gomez Eriza
$14,000,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost
$10,000,000 Personal Injury: Pain & Suffering
Defense counsel moved for a new trial.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.