$3M Payment To Family Of Vachel Howard Who Died In Police Custody


A Los Angeles City Council committee on Monday approved paying nearly $3 million to the family of a 56-year-old grandfather who died in police custody after an LAPD jail guard placed him in a chokehold, sources said.

The City Attorney’s office had recommend settling the case filed in connection with the death of Vachel Howard for $2.85 million.

The council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a settlement of the case, paving the way for it to go to the full council and mayor for final approval, according to Richard Williams of the city clerk’s office. Williams declined to provide the amount of the proposed settlement, but a source familiar with the matter said it remained at $2.85 million. The case is expected to go before the council and mayor in the coming weeks.

Howard was unarmed, prone on the floor, and being swarmed by five officers when one applied the controversial restraint, according to court records, police commission files and video surveillance footage from inside the police department’s 77th Street Station jail.

The video — key evidence in a federal lawsuit filed by the Howard family against the police — is subject to a protective order barring its release. But its contents are detailed in court papers reviewed by CNN.

Howard, who had been arrested for drunk driving, told police he was a paranoid schizophrenic and that he had not been taking his medications, records show.
Attorneys defending the police said Howard became “violently combative” with officers and had Hulk-like “super human strength,” according to court papers. An autopsy would later reveal the presence of cocaine in his system.

The details of Howard’s death come to light as police around the country are facing increased scrutiny of their dealings with minority suspects, unarmed suspects, and the mentally ill. The chokehold death of Eric Garner last year at the hands of NYPD officers is one of several incidents that prompted anti-police protests around the country. As was the case with Howard, Garner was placed in the hold because he was resisting officers’ attempts to restrain him.

Howard’s case has remained largely under the radar in Los Angeles. The LAPD did not issue a press release on the day he died as is typically done with in-custody death cases.

The incident began on June 4, 2012 when Howard was arrested for DUI after allegedly swerving through traffic in his South Los Angeles neighborhood.
In addition to his own comments about being schizophrenic, a background check revealed a past contact with the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department in which deputies noted that Howard “was mental, and there was possible [bipolar] schizophrenia,” according to court records.

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