Claremont settles wrongful death suit
April 17, 2003
By MELISSA PINION-WHITT
RIVERSIDE — The city of Claremont agreed Thursday to pay the family of an 18-year-old black motorist shot and killed by police four years ago $450,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and its Police Department.
The settlement, made in Central District Court, will be split between the mother and two children of Irvin Landrum Jr., whose death touched off more than a year of protests outside City Hall and numerous investigations into the 1999 shooting.
"It's an ending for a really sad and tragic situation for everyone - tragic for the Landrum family as well as our two officers Hany Hanna and Kent Jacks and for the whole city of Claremont," said Claremont Councilwoman Sandra Baldonado.
Hanna and Jacks shot and killed Landrum Jan. 11, 1999, during a late-night traffic stop. Police say Landrum pulled a gun and fired at the officers as they attempted to search him.
Landrum family members and supporters have long contested the police account, arguing that the gun Landrum is said to have had was planted by police and that the shooting was unwarranted.
Under the settlement, the city admits no guilt in the shooting.
The money will be split between Landrum's mother, Tracy Lee, and his two children, 5-year-old Tyrie Robinson and 4-year-old Faith Ramirez, said attorney Marc Grossman, one of the attorneys representing the family.
A number of settlement options were discussed, but the city wanted an agreement that ensured the children would be taken care of, Baldonado said.
"We were interested in seeing that the two children were provided for," she said. "We were interested in getting structured settlements for them. The original offers from the attorneys were for lump sums."
The California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, which insures municipalities, was responsible for settling the claim. The agency is expected to make final approval of the terms of the settlement in late May, city officials said.
Baldonado said Thursday that while the council is apprised of the JPIA's work, they have little hands-on influence during the negotiation process.
The City Council was presented with the proposed settlement during closed session prior to last week's City Council meeting and council members had an opportunity to provide input.
Anthony Willoughby, attorney for Tracy Lee, said his client feels vindicated by the city's decision to settle. The suit, filed in October 1999, sought $1 million in damages.
"I think, like in all settlements, everyone has to give a little, and I think this is the best for the city and the Landrum family," he said.
Willoughby said the children will receive payments until they are 18 and will also receive funds that will cover a college education after they turn 18.
Grossman said he too was pleased with the settlement.
"Today's settlement conference was very amicable, and we're very glad that it's over," he said. "I think that this closure is in everyone's best interest."
Lee could not be reached for comment.
While family members and supporters of Irvin Landrum believe his death was unjustified, inquiries by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department found that the officer's actions were appropriate in the shooting.
In weekly protests outside Claremont City Hall throughout 1999, Landrum family members and supporters called for an further investigation.
The protests were fueled when the official investigations revealed that the gun Landrum allegedly had had not been fired during the incident and that its last registered owner was a deceased Ontario police chief.
Eleven months after the shooting, Jacks and Hanna were given employee of the year awards by City Manager Glenn Southard, despite the fact that the U.S. Justice Department was still reviewing the case.
Southard rescinded the awards last month, admitting it was a mistake to have given them to the officers in the first place.
Landrum supporters say they are still waiting for the Claremont Police Management Association to rescind their officer of the year awards to Hanna and Jacks.
Hal Fairchild, a Pitzer College professor who organized the protests, said he had mixed feelings about the settlement.
Had the case gone before a jury, more information about what happened the night Landrum was killed may have surfaced, he said.
"I think that it's sad because it means that the truth will remain hidden from view," Fairchild said. "Perhaps the silver lining is that the family can get on with its business, but the amount of the settlement seems totally insufficient to compensate for the loss of their eldest son."
Fairchild said the settlement appears to be the end of the Landrum issue.
"I think we've learned some lessons from the Landrum case that will
hopefully make policing in Claremont better," he said.
Staff writer Will Matthews contributed to this story.
Melissa Pinion-Whitt can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at (909) 483-9378.