L.A. to pay nearly $1 million in settlement against officer who shot Black teen in back

Jamar Nicholson shows a bullet wound on his back. Nicholson was shot Feb. 10 in an alley in South L.A. by an LAPD officer. 
Jamar Nicholson shows the bullet wound on his back from when an LAPD officer shot him in 2015. Nicholson was 15 at the time. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles will pay nearly $1 million to settle excessive force claims against an LAPD officer who fired into a group of teenagers in 2015 after apparently mistaking a toy gun for a real weapon.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the L.A. city attorney's office, confirmed the $985,000 settlement Friday but declined to comment further.

The claim stemmed from the events of Feb. 10, 2015, when an LAPD officer shot at Jamar Nicholson, then 15, in an alley near 10th Street and Florence Avenue — wounding him in the upper back.

Nicholson, who is Black, had been rapping and dancing with some of his friends in the alley that morning, which they previously told The Times was part of their typical routine before school.

Attorneys for Nicholson and another young man, Jason Huerta, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city in September 2015, contending that the officer violated their 4th Amendment rights against unlawful arrest and excessive force by shooting at them and holding them in handcuffs for five hours.

They also alleged the shooting violated their 14th Amendment due process rights.

According to a redacted copy of a report former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck submitted to the L.A. Police Commission, officers had been driving by when one looked over and saw someone pointing what he thought was a gun at somebody else in the alley.

But it turned out to be a toy replica with an orange-colored tip at the end of the barrel. The LAPD also later acknowledged that Nicholson hadn't been holding it.

One of the officers told investigators that when he gave an order to drop the item, the person turned and pointed it toward him. An attorney representing Nicholson, however, has challenged that account.

"The officer falsely claimed a crime was being committed by Blacks and a Latino as they filmed themselves rapping with a bright orange-tipped replica gun as a prop," said the pair's attorney, John Harris. "This shooting wouldn't have occurred if the kids were white, or on the way to school in a Westside neighborhood. This was a classic example of the mistreatment, racial prejudice and injustice against Blacks, including Black children."

The L.A. Police Commission ruled in January 2016 that the officer was justified in opening fire.

City News Service contributed to this report.