The Los Angeles City Council approved an $860,000 settlement Friday with a protester who was shot with a projectile and badly wounded by a city police officer during a protest over the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Protester Deon Jones filed a federal lawsuit in December 2020 alleging that LAPD Officer Peter Bueno individually and the city as a whole were both liable for his injuries in the shooting. The settlement forestalls a trial over the city’s culpability, while letting stand a jury verdict against Bueno from March.
Jones’ attorneys say the payment will help Jones move on with his life, while the preservation of the verdict against Bueno will make it easier to hold police officers accountable for harming protesters in the future.
“This is going to be a bellwether case,” said Orin Snyder, one of Jones’ attorneys.
“I am proud and relieved that this multi-year fight for justice has concluded in such a momentous, historic outcome,” Jones said in a statement to The Times.
Jones had claimed Bueno violated Jones’ constitutional rights by shooting him and that the city and the LAPD had also done so by failing to establish proper crowd enforcement protocols, failing to ensure Bueno was properly trained on rules governing the use of force and failing to discipline Bueno for violating those rules.
At the trial over Bueno’s liability in March, the LAPD maintained there was insufficient evidence to prove Bueno shot Jones, and Bueno denied doing so. He said that, in the Fairfax district parking lot where Jones was wounded, he only remembered shooting someone else who had thrown a water bottle at him. Top brass including Chief Michel Moore concluded in 2021 that there was insufficient evidence to conclude any wrongdoing on Bueno’s part.
However, Jones’ legal team managed to convince a jury otherwise by scouring hours of video, locating the shooting in question, and using an expert video analyst to trace Jones’ movements through the crowd that day and place him directly in the line of fire.
In March, that jury found Bueno liable for shooting Jones and violating his rights under the 4th Amendment, which bars unreasonable search and seizure. It awarded Jones $375,000, including $125,000 in punitive damages to punish Bueno.
Jones’ case against the city had been set for trial as well, but it was pushed off as the two parties restarted settlement negotiations.
The $860,000 settlement approved by the council Friday resolves all matters in the case and will be paid in lieu of the lesser jury award, not in addition to it, according to records reviewed by The Times.
The settlement allows the city to avoid litigating in open court its own culpability in the wounding of demonstrators during the 2020 unrest, which it would have had to do if the second portion of Jones’ case had proceeded to trial.
Multiple reviews of the Floyd protests in L.A. have already found crucial operational and tactical mistakes by the department as well as a failure in preceding years to adequately train and prepare for such large, citywide demonstrations.
In addition, the settlement lets the city avoid the legal costs of a second trial and the risk of having to pay Jones a larger sum had he prevailed. It also allows the city to avoid the cost of appealing the verdict in the Bueno case, and to sidestep the question of whether to cover the $375,000 in damages the jury said Bueno was personally accountable for paying.
Janine Jeffery, Bueno’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment. In an internal memo about the settlement reviewed by The Times, city attorneys maintained that it is unclear whether Bueno shot Jones.
Jones, 31, who has a history of civil rights activism, and a friend who he was at the protest with have maintained since June 2020 that Jones was shot in the face with a hard-foam LAPD projectile as he was standing in a crowd peacefully protesting. Police acknowledged having no evidence that Jones had thrown anything at officers.
Amid a wave of litigation over the LAPD’s handling of the protests, Jones’ case — and his determination to see it through to trial — stood out. Many such cases are settled before ever going to trial. When the jury ruled in Jones’ favor, he claimed it as a historic victory not just for him but “for all the folks who historically have went out and protested.”
“It sends a message that … law enforcement cannot brutalize folks,” he said at the time.
Jones’ lawyers said they decided to settle for a few reasons.
For starters, the city had expressed its intention to challenge the jury verdict, which Jones and his team wanted to preserve as legal precedent in such cases. In settling, the city agreed to give up its right to appeal the decision, Jones’ lawyers said.
Freed of ongoing litigation, Jones and his attorneys will now be able to push for broader recognition of that precedent on the national level, said Katie Marquart, another of Jones’ attorneys.
Their team faced a legal landscape where there is little court precedent favoring protesters wounded by police, in part because so many claims are settled out of court, Marquart said.
Now, their win — and their analysis of the protest video to find Jones’ shooting — provides “a playbook” not just for how to identify an individual officer responsible for wounding a protester, but for holding them legally accountable, Marquart said.
“We’ve had several other legal teams from other ongoing cases across the country reach out to us in the wake of the win,” Marquart said.
Jones said Friday that the jury verdict in the case “affirmed my faith in humanity,” and that he was grateful that his “efforts to challenge and transform the status quo have moved the needle in the right direction for all people around the country who exercise their rights to peacefully protest.”
Jones’ attorneys took the case pro bono, and waived their right to pursue attorneys fees in the case. Some of the settlement will go toward covering other, non-attorney-related costs associated with litigating the case — which could include things like hiring expert witnesses — but the attorneys declined to specify how much.
The city is still facing a large class-action lawsuit by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and other groups over its handling of the 2020 protests. It has also reached settlements with other individual protesters, including paying $1.25 million to another protester who was shot with a projectile while he was backing away with his hands above his head.
Carol Sobel, an attorney for Black Lives Matter, said the Jones settlement — after the city spent a lot of money fighting the case in court — shows they “ought to really think about resolving these cases” before going to trial.
“It sends a message,” she said.