Los Angeles Tentatively Agrees to $2,850,000 Settlement Over in-Custody Death of Vachel Howard

Vachel Howard

Los Angeles could be paying out $2.85 million to the family of Vachel Howard, a 56-year-old grandfather who died in police custody in 2012, pending approval of the City Council and mayor, CNN reports. According to the report, the city attorney's office has tentatively agreed to settle the case, and the council is expected to take up the proposal on Monday.

Howard died after a Los Angeles Police Department jail guard put him in a choke hold, court records show. Howard, who was unarmed at the time, was prone on the ground, with five officers surrounding him, when one of those officers used the controversial restraining technique. 


Howard was arrested June 4, 2012, for drunk driving after allegedly swerving in traffic. While being detained, he reportedly told officers that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and had not been taking his medication. A background check also pulled up a previous encounter with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, in which deputies noted that Howard was "mental, and there was possible [bipolar] schizophrenia," according to court documents, CNN notes.

Howard was brought to LAPD's 77th Street Station jail and strip-searched. He was then handcuffed to a bench before being uncuffed and taken to see a nurse. According to CNN, Howard started to resist, refusing to be examined by the nurse, and at one point moved in the nurse's direction, causing the woman to scream. Officers tried to subdue him, but he began swinging his arms and throwing punches as he tried to break free.


He was eventually brought to the ground by a group of officers. One officer reportedly repeatedly shocked him with a Taser. At that point, Detention Officer Juan Romero put Howard in a "modified carotid restraint," or a choke hold. Howard was eventually subdued and handcuffed again, this time with his legs restrained. 

After Howard stopped moving, a nurse and officers, including Romero, administered CPR but could not revive him. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to CNN. 


Attorneys representing the officers argued that Howard became "violently combative" and displayed "superhuman strength." 

Romero reportedly told investigators that he thought Howard, who did not respond to the Taser, posed a deadly threat and that he only applied the choke hold for seconds. The city's police commission, however, pointed out that Howard "was in a prone position," with multiple officers attempting to restrain him, before he was placed in the choke hold. The civilian commission said that Romero's claim regarding the threat was unreasonable, and thus his decision violated department policy, according to CNN. 


Romero was reportedly suspended for 22 days but was not terminated. 

An autopsy, which noted the presence of cocaine in Howard's system, determined that the cause of death was "effects of neck compression, coronary atherosclerosis with thrombosis and cocaine intoxication." 


Read more at CNN.

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