The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a nearly $990,500 payout to the mother of a man who died 12 hours after struggling with two police sergeants while under the influence of cocaine.
The death of 37-year-old Omar Abrego, who was arrested on August 2, 2014, in the 6900 block of South Main Street, was cited by some activists as an example of excessive force by police.
However, the Board of Police Commissioners cleared the officers who arrested him of any wrongdoing and the District Attorney's Office last year declined to bring any charges against them, concluding in a report that the force used by Sgts. Robert Calderon and Jeff Mares on Abrego "was not unreasonable or excessive."
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Abrego died from the "effects of cocaine," according to a report prepared by Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck that cited the Los Angeles County coroner's office examination.
The coroner's report also said "physical and emotional duress'' was a contributing condition that was not related the immediate cause of death.
According to Beck's report, Calderon and Mares began pursuing Abrego around 5:45 p.m., after they were flagged down by a person who told them about a driver of a "suspicious'' white vehicle" with no plates.''
The sergeants later spotted a white van that appeared to fit that description going westbound on 70th Street that did not stop at a stop sign, then nearly hitting a pedestrian as the vehicle continued north on Broadway.
One of the sergeants said Abrego looked to be "driving erratically." The sergeants pulled Abrego over, but he jumped out of the back of the van and fled on foot. When they caught up to him, a violent struggle ensued, with Abrego punching one of the sergeants in the chest, prompting the lawman to punch Abrego in the face three times, the report said.
The sergeants called for backup and continued to try to restrain Abrego, who was kicking at them, prompting the sergeants to put a restraint aroundhis ankles and place him on his left side, the report said.
After Abrego began "mumbling incoherently while spitting saliva and blood," the sergeants placed a spit sock over his head, but removed it a few minutes later after it was soiled by dirt or mud, according to the report.
Abrego was later treated by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel, then taken to Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center, where he died around 5:20 a.m. the next morning.
Abrego's mother, Lilia Abrego Figueroa, filed a $25 million federal wrongful death lawsuit in 2015, naming the city of Los Angeles and its police department, along with Mares, Calderon, Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti as defendants.
The District Attorney's Office report concluded that Abrego died from the effects of cocaine intoxication and cited statements from witnesses to the struggle between the officers and Abrego, including one who said the sergeants "just could not seem to get this man under control. He was just not going to stop. He was just fighting the officers who couldn't get the handcuffs on him or calm him down."
The report from the District Attorney's Office also states that it cannot be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt that any physical or emotional duress he sustained while he was taken into custody resulted from any excessive force. To the contrary, we conclude that Sgts. Jeff Mares and Robert Calderon used reasonable force in their efforts to detain Abrego."
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union which represents the LAPD's rank and file officers, said, "Mr. Abrego's cause of death was due to the effects of the large amount of cocaine in his system. At some point, we must hold those who break the law responsible for their actions and discourage those seeking a quick payday off the backs of police officers who risk their lives to keep us all safe. While we understand the City Council's strategy of settling this case following the jury award, we are disappointed that trial attorneys are once again making a quick buck at the expense of the taxpayers, our police officers and crime victims.''