Above the Law

Devin Petelski's Death in Crash With LAPD Prompted $5 Million City Settlement: Cops Appeared to Lie

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Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 7:03 AM
click to enlarge Petelski.
  • Petelski.

The case of Devin Petelski vs. the LAPD came to a quiet end last year. The 25-year-old was killed when her BMW was T-boned by an LAPD cruiser on Venice Boulevard on the night Oct. 15, 2009.

Her family sued the department, alleging that the officer behind the wheel was speeding with no emergency lights on when the black-and-white hit her BMW shortly before midnight near Venice High School.

The city settled with her relatives for ...

... $5 million, a fact the Los Angeles Times noted this week and last week in coverage of officer-involved traffic accidents.

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The L.A. City Council actually approved a motion to green-light the settlement as far back as April, when it sent the matter to the desk of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (PDF).

The motion to settle was put forward by council members Bernard Parks (a former LAPD chief) and Greig Smith (an LAPD reserve officer).

What's disheartening to learn via Times coverage is that officers might have blatantly lied about what happened, at least in contrast to the family's version of events -- a version that ended on the right side of millions of dollars in settlement cash.

Police and the City Attorney's Office claimed early on that Petelski had failed to yield the right-of-way to traffic when she started a right turn onto Venice Boulevard from Glyndon Avenue and was struck by the police cruiser.

The Times notes that driver James Eldridge and partner Ramon Vasquez claimed to have been going 45 miles per hour or less while en route to back up fellow cops on a nearby burglary-in-progress call.

While friends of Petelski falsely claimed the cruiser was racing with all its lights blacked out in a debunked practice called "silent running," the department's own investigators concluded that Eldridge was going 49 with no emergency lights in use (the car's headlights were on).

click to enlarge The car that killed Petelski. - COURTESY CHRISTOPHER MEDAK
  • Courtesy Christopher Medak
  • The car that killed Petelski.

The evidence would suggest that the black-and-white was speeding to a Code 2 (the second-highest emergency level next to Code 3) call without its emergency lights on, a no-no under department policy.

"Code 2 High" runs -- getting to a call as fast as you can without emergency lights on -- were banned in 2004 over concerns about accidents just like this one, but it's not unusual to see cops racing to calls without their light bars going, an observation that even a department traffic detective admitted wasn't off.

After police investigators said they couldn't extract "black box" data from the LAPD Crown Victoria in question, an independent look at the device successfully showed that the vehicle was actually going 78 mph, which was consistent with what at least one witness, who said LAPD investigators tried to talk his number down, claimed, according to the Times.

The family's suit hinted as much:

Per the complaint, the onboard computer in the police vehicle revealed that the LAPD's vehicle was traveling at a speed far in excess of the posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour.

What's more, one of the first officers on the scene reported smelling alcohol on Petelski's breath, an observation that was not supported by toxicology tests.

City sources in late 2009 had whispered in reporters' ears, saying that Petelski had a troubled relationship with alcohol and that she might have been under the influence that night -- an assertion refuted by her loving friends and now finally debunked.

In fact Petelski was a recovering alcoholic who had just gotten off work from her job as a counselor at a treatment house just half a block away on Glyndon Avenue, according to family and friends.

The campaign against her -- whispering in the ears of reporters, getting facts wrong, to say the least -- makes you wonder what the LAPD and the City Attorney's Office won't do to win a case, in civil or Superior Court. Of course, cops never lie.

We called the Police Commission and Internal Affairs to ask if the officers in that cruiser that night would be reprimanded or at least investigated for giving what would appear to be false information.

We have yet to hear back.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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