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County Paid Out $100 Million-Plus to Settle Sheriff's Department Lawsuits

Supervisor Gloria Molina said the county had 255 claims pending against the Sheriff's Department.

Legal claims and lawsuits against the Sheriff's Department have cost Los Angeles County taxpayers more than $100 million over the past three years, a county supervisor said Tuesday.

"Over the last three years, from 2009 to 2012, this board has authorized judgments, settlements, attorneys' fees and costs that total over $100 million," Supervisor Gloria Molina said, noting that the amount did not include another $18 million paid out from a fund set aside for legal claims.

Molina said the county had 255 claims pending against the Sheriff's Department, and that about $500,000 was spent on the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence.

A discussion about liability and risk management, originally set to be heard by the board today, was put off until Feb. 26 at the request of the county's chief executive officer. An accounting of legal settlements in fiscal 2011-12 was not made available.

In fiscal 2010-11, the county paid out $107.4 million in claims across all departments and, at the time, lawyers for the county warned that costs were increasing.

Excessive force cases against the Sheriff's Department were up roughly 75 percent that year, prompting the county's litigation cost manager, Steven Estabrook to say: "That's something that we need to watch carefully and react to."

The biggest individual payouts that year included a $6 million payment in the Bouman class-action lawsuit -- which resulted in a 1993 consent decree regarding gender discrimination; $4.75 million related to a crash caused by an intoxicated sheriff's deputy; and $4.3 million for a man who was paralyzed from the waist down in a Taser incident in a Lakewood Station holding cell.

In November, the board agreed to pay $1.865 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that a sheriff's deputy used excessive force when he shot a man, leaving him a paraplegic.

Molina's comments were made during a discussion about a forensic audit of the Sheriff's Department's $2.8 billion budget.

"I think there are management issues going on with the Sheriff's Department," Molina said. "Mostly mismanagement issues. That liability is going up."

--Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service

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