Hawthorne Will Pay $1 Million to Avoid Lawsuit Against Officers

The Daily Breeze
September 20, 1991

The family of an escaped mental patient shot to death by Hawthorne police will accept $1 million to drop a lawsuit against two officers, attorneys said Thursday.

Attorneys for Loretta and Naymon Williams said the city "basically has admitted the Police Department was liable" for the July 1, 1990, shooting of 20-year-old Terrence Williams.

Hawthorne officials, however, denied that the settlement is an admission of guilt; they said the city was forced to settle the claim by its insurance company.

"We have always felt that the shooting was justifiable. It was self-defense," said City Attorney Mike Adamson. "This is a decision made by the insurance carrier. We have a duty to cooperate with them."

Officer Joseph Luper, 34, shot and killed Williams outside his parents' house in the 14100 block of Yukon Avenue. According to police, Williams attacked Luper and his partner, Paul Neitzert, 38.

Attorneys for the Williams family claim they have a witness who saw Luper shoot Williams while his hands were held in the air.

Williams, a diagnosed schizophrenic, escaped from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center the afternoon of the shooting.

According to family attorneys, Loretta Williams had taken her son to the hospital in the morning to get medication for an "episode."

Police investigators, however, described Williams as a trained boxer who severely beat two security guards to escape from the hospital.

Hospital staff called police, who arrived at the Williams' home to try to return the man to the hospital.

Officers used a Taser gun and nunchakus to try to subdue Williams, but the man attacked them, Adamson said.

"He beat officer Luper severely," Adamson said. "He had a broken nose and blood all over his face."

According to police, Williams ran to the back of the house, and additional officers arrived to help look for the man.

When Williams reappeared he "advanced on the officers," and Luper fired his gun.

Terrence Williams' bother, Brian, said the shooting was in "retaliation" for his brother's hitting police officers.

"They didn't see anybody around and figured they could get away with it, "Brian Williams said in August 1990, when the suit was filed.

The $1 million payment to the family settles a $10 million lawsuit originally brought against Luper, Neitzert, the city, Police Chief Steve Port and other officers at the shooting.

A federal judge in July dismissed charges against all defendants but Luper and Neitzert. The judge also threw out a claim that the city had a pattern of condoning police brutality.

Family members, who live in a small duplex in Hawthorne, would not comment on the shooting or the settlement.

Attorneys Stephen Yagman, speaking at a news conference to announce the settlement, claimed "the city of Hawthorne Police Department has a custom of tolerating and condoning the use of excessive force by its officers."

The attorneys also said Luper has received numerous complaints of excessive force but refused to give details to back up their charges.

Yagman said the family was willing to accept $750,000 if the city would fire Luper, an offer Adamson call "grandstanding."

Adamson said he believes insurance companies are quick to settle officer-involved civil suits in the wake of the publicity surrounding the March 3 beating of motorist Rodney King.

"Rodney King has changed the entire thrust of police litigation," Adamson said. "There's no question about that."