The family of an unarmed man killed by a Downey police officer with a submachine gun in a case of mistaken identity has agreed to a $4.5-million settlement with the city's insurer.
Michael Nida, 31, was fatally shot in the back Oct. 22, 2011, by Officer Steven Gilley after Nida was mistaken for a suspect wanted in an armed robbery at a Bank of America ATM.
Prosecutors declined to criminally charge the officer, citing Nida's resistance and that he had run from officers three times.
Attorneys for Nida's family said the settlement was agreed to by lawyers for Downey's municipal insurer last week on the eve of a trial in a wrongful-death and civil-rights lawsuit.
"We have mixed feelings about the settlement. We would have loved to hear a guilty verdict by a jury but had to weigh the pros and cons of settling versus going to trial," said Nida's sister, Terri Teramura. "We didn't want to subject Michael's young children to the nightmare of having to relive that horrible night over and over again."
Nida's family has regularly protested at City Hall over the last year and formed a group called Nida's Ryders. Teramura said no amount of money would bring her brother back.
"Money is not justice," she said. "But Downey will pay to support Michael's children, since they took away their provider."
Brian Claypool, who with Dale Galipo represented the family, said the settlement was the largest he been involved with before a trial.
"Given the circumstances, they knew this case could cost a lot more with a jury given the facts and other recent verdicts," Claypool said.
Galipo recently secured a jury verdict that Culver City pay $8.8 million in a police shooting. He and Claypool also won a $6.5-million from judgment against Long Beach in a case in which officers mistook a water-hose nozzle for a gun.
Downey officials said any proposed settlement needs a judge's approval and noted the insurer's attorney made the decision to settle the case. In a statement, the city said, "The insurance risk pool's decisions for this matter are beyond the city's control."
City officials noted that a Los Angeles district attorney's office report found that Gilley's actions were legal. "The city invites anyone who is interested in the real facts to review the report," they said.
Last fall, prosecutor Stephanie Sparagna wrote that Nida repeatedly resisted arrest and ran from police three times. He also ignored warnings from police, including one from the officer that he would "blow his head off" if Nida did not show his hands.
Sparagna said police can use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon when the suspect may pose a deadly or serious threat to officers or others.
It was later determined Nida was not the robbery suspect and was unarmed. Police detained Nida after seeing him running across a street as they searched for the robbery suspects, described as black males with dark clothing.
Nida, 31, was a Puerto Rican and white man. The father of four was getting gasoline with his wife. He had run across Imperial Highway to get cigarettes and was detained as he came out of the tobacco shop.
Initially he cooperated, but then "suddenly and inexplicably" he ran from officers, prosecutors said. Officers reported that he hopped fences and eluded them. Within 10 minutes, Gilley and another officer detained Nida in an alley behind a Walgreens.
Gilley ordered Nida to show his hands, and when he did not, Gilley said he feared the suspect had a weapon, the prosecutor wrote. "Believing Nida was armed and dangerous, Gilley fired one three-round burst from his MP5, killing Nida," Sparagna wrote.
Copyright 2013 - Los Angeles Times
McClatchy-Tribune News Service