The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay $1.9 million to the family of a man who was shot to death by police officers after he had stabbed himself in the abdomen during an apparent suicide attempt.
Police said Luis Molina Martinez, 35, was shot because he lunged at officers with a knife in his hand, but a lawsuit claimed that Martinez was no longer armed by the time officers arrived and that evidence at the scene was staged.
The City Council approved the payment on a 12-1 vote, with Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former police officer, voting against the settlement.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleged wrongful death, negligence, civil rights violations and assault and battery. The plaintiffs were Martinez’s widow, Monica Ramirez, their three biological children and their stepdaughter.
“I think Monica Ramirez was the most beautiful client I have ever had the pleasure of serving. And what happened to her husband was an unfortunate reality of the time that we live in now,” Gabriel Avina, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told City News Service.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman with the City Attorney’s Office, said he had no comment on the settlement.
Along with the city, the suit named as defendants Los Angeles Police Department officers Ricardo Huerta, Rudolph Rivera and Aldo Quintero.
Police said previously that Martinez was shot after he allegedly charged at them about 4:30 p.m. on April 21, 2015 with a large hunting knife at his apartment in the 3400 block of Manitou Avenue in the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights.
According to a report on the case by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Martinez had fallen or jumped out of a third-story window on Jan. 22, 2015, and was mostly confined to a wheelchair as a result of a broken hip, but could stand and walk.
The report stated that Ramirez had called 911 after her husband had stabbed himself in the abdomen. After arriving on the scene and trying to give aid to Martinez, who was sitting in a wheelchair, officers reported that he pulled out a knife that had been hidden under his leg, stood up and moved toward them while failing to obey commands to drop the weapon.
Rivera, Huerta, and Quintero all fired at Martinez, who was later pronounced dead in an ambulance, according to the report. Lacey did not specify what Martinez’s injuries were, but the suit said he was shot five times, including three times in the back while he was lying face-down in his doorway.
“One officer then kicked Mr. Martinez twice and none of the officers made any attempt at providing medical attention,” the suit said.
Lacey declined to press any charges against the officers and ruled that their use of force was justified.
“The evidence examined shows that Martinez was depressed and intent on committing suicide. Prior to the officers’ arrival, Martinez had stabbed himself in the chest and refused to go to the emergency room,” Lacey wrote.
She added, “Martinez refused any assistance from the responding officers after Ramirez called 9-1-1 for assistance. Instead, Martinez purposefully engaged in threatening behavior that had no rational explanation other than it assured the use of deadly force against him.”
According to the lawsuit, Martinez was no longer armed when officers arrived.
The suit also alleged that Martinez’s body was taken away to allow the officers to move and destroy the evidence of the homicide, and that the knife was planted at the scene near Martinez by officers.
“The city offered $1.9 million because they wanted to sweep things under the rug,” Avina said.