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Bell Gardens Dismisses Excessive Force Claim

The Bell Gardens City Council this week rejected a claim against the city that accuses the city’s police department of using excessive force when they shot 20-year-old Johnny Estrada before arresting him in front of his mother’s home in Bell Gardens earlier this year.

EGP reported in April that officers responded to a call of a family dispute on the 6800 block of Marlow around 6:40 p.m. on April 20. According to authorities, Estrada was sitting in the driver’s side of the car with the engine running and was shot when he refused to follow commands by the officers to exit the vehicle.

Estrada was charged with obstructing a peace officer and his criminal case is pending.

Estrada and his mother Maria Alvarez filed separate claims against the city in late August. They alleged that the officers used excessive force when they shot Estrada three times through the car’s window, leaving Estrada with multiple bullet fragments to his cheek, scalp and spine.

According to the claim filed by Estrada, the alleged excessive force led to his partial paralysis. Alvarez alleges that she experienced emotional distress after witnessing the shooting and financial loss from her son’s disability. Both claimants asked the city for multi-million dollar settlements for damages.

Filing a claim gives the city a chance to look at the allegations and to decide whether to settle with the claimants before the matter goes to court. If the city denies the claim and decides not to settle, the claimants have the option of suing the city.

Bell Gardens sent the claim for review to Carl Warren & Company, a claims management and consulting company, which recommended the city reject the claim filed by Estrada and his mother.

Nicholas T. Razo, senior management analyst for the City of Bell Gardens, told EGP that the city rejected the claim based on Carl Warren & Company’s recommendation, but said the city cannot release the reason for the recommendation to deny the claim unless they go to court.

“Details cannot be divulged because of pending litigation,” said Razo.

According to Estrada and Alvarez’s attorney, —- Ryan, most claims against a city are rejected unless the city chooses to settle with the claimant.

Ryan told EGP that his clients intend to move forward with lawsuits against the city to pay for medical bills, lost wages and damages Estrada suffered from the gunshot wounds, which led to his permanent disability. Alvarez will also be moving forward with her lawsuit of emotional distress.

“A lawsuit will be coming shortly,” said Ryan.

Ryan also told EGP there is an audio recording of the incident, which he says supports his clients’ claim.

Since the claim was rejected by the city, Estrada and Alvarez have six months before the statue of limitations is up to file a lawsuit.

In the letter sent to Estrada and Alvarez, Bell Gardens’ senior management analyst advised the mother and son that if they file a lawsuit that the court determines to be frivolous, the city intends to seek attorney’s fees and costs from the plaintiffs.