Crime & Justice

LA County to approve $1.5 million settlement for man killed by sheriff's deputy

The current seal of Los Angeles County, adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in September 2004.
The current seal of Los Angeles County, adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in September 2004.
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The family of a man killed by a sheriff's deputy in 2012 is expected to receive a $1.5 million settlement from Los Angeles County. The county admits no wrongdoing in the settlement.

On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the settlement for the lawsuit brought by the two minor sons of Kenneth Rivera III and their biological mother.

Rivera, 27, was fatally shot in June 2012 following a struggle with an L.A. County sheriff's deputy in the city of Lynwood. According to documents from the L.A. County District Attorney's office, which also investigated the shooting, Rivera had first attempted to kidnap a teenager in front of a Lynwood business, prompting a bystander to call 911. Deputy Norma Silva responded to the call and found Rivera nearby, matching the description of the suspect.

The DA documents show that when Silva arrived at the scene, Rivera charged her patrol car, diving on top of her as she tried to exit the vehicle. Silva told investigators that Rivera reached for her gun, which was in her hand during that struggle, prompting her to shoot Rivera in the back and side. Rivera later died at the hospital.

Rivera had been staying at a local motel, and investigators found methamphetamine and marijuana in his motel room, according to the DA report. Witnesses also told the DA's office that they had seen Rivera exhibiting odd behavior outside the motel earlier in the day.

Rivera's family claimed in the lawsuit that Rivera had his hands in the air when Silva shot him. They also claim deputies at the scene failed to get medical help to Rivera in a timely fashion.

"Rivera is but one of many recent victims of a disturbing trend featuring unarmed citizens shot dead by the county's sheriffs," the lawsuit said. The lawsuit alleged the Sheriff's Department "looks the other way" when an unarmed person is shot and "when officers fabricate stories."

Another version of events was presented directly after the shooting by the Sheriff's Department. In a news release, it said Rivera had his hand in his pocket as he charged toward Silva. It said Silva opened fire because she believed he had a gun. He did not.

In proposing to make a payment to the family to settle the lawsuit, the county admits no wrongdoing.

"Due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs," the county counsel said in in a memo to the board.

The sheriff’s legal bills are mounting: In 2015, L.A. County paid out $60 million to people they shot or seriously injured — up 50 percent from the year before.

A KPCC investigation found that during a recent five-year period, one-third of the people shot by sheriff’s deputies were unarmed. The average among local police departments is 25 percent.

The District Attorney's office cleared Silva of any criminal wrongdoing.  The Sheriff's Department does not reveal whether it finds deputies violated shooting policies and whether they faced any disciplinary measures as a result.