Los Angeles, CA — As TFTP reports on a regular basis, being innocent — even an innocent child — is no defense against police kidnapping, caging, or killing you. Jamar Nicholson Green learned this the hard way when a trigger happy cop opened fire on him and a group of friends as they freestyle rapped on their way to school. Green and his friends had committed no crime and were unarmed.
The incident unfolded in 2015, but the lawsuit was only recently settled and the taxpayers of LA county will be shelling out nearly $1 million for the negligent and deadly actions of LAPD officer Michael Gutierrez.
Gutierrez — who was not in uniform at the time — saw the children freestyle rapping at the meet-up spot and noticed that one of them was holding a toy gun. This is not the same as some incidents in which the gun resembles an actual gun. This one was clearly marked as a toy with a highly visible orange barrel and did not look like an actual gun at all.
As Courthouse news reported:
Jamar Nicholson Green, then 15, and three of his friends were listening to rap music in an alley a few blocks from their Los Angeles high school. It was the group’s regular meet-up spot for freestyling and rapping before class.
Green’s friend held a plastic Airsoft gun with a bright orange tip while he was rapping and dancing in the circle.
But just as the teens turned off the music and started the trek to class, they heard multiple gunshots, which one teen mistook as gunfire from nearby gangs.
In fact, LAPD officer Michael Gutierrez had come across the group and, after seeing the toy gun, fired his gun at least three times into the crowd of teens. One bullet hit Green in the back.
Gutierrez opened fire without warning, just as the teens turned off the music and started their trek to school. The kids thought that the gunfire was coming from gangs but it was one of LAPD's finest instead.
Despite having been shot for no reason, Nicholson,was forced to remain in handcuffs as he was transported to the emergency room. Even while in the ER, Nicholson was kept in handcuffs as doctors worked on the bullet wound in his back.
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“The officer falsely claimed a crime was being committed by Blacks and a Latino as they filmed themselves rapping with a bright orange-tipped replica gun as a prop,” stated John Harris of Harris & Associates who represented the plaintiffs. “This shooting wouldn’t have occurred if the kids were white, or on the way to school in a Westside neighborhood. This was a classic example of the mistreatment, racial prejudice and injustice against blacks, including black children. They regularly and routinely suffer at the hands of police. After waging a long and rigorous five-year battle against the City of LA for Guitterez’s blatant and egregious misconduct, we finally convinced them to do the right thing and compensate our clients for their physical injuries and emotional distress suffered.”
Gutierrez originally attempted to use Qualified immunity to shield himself from liability, but in a rare instance of justice, the courts eventually denied it.
“Here, it was soon apparent to the officers that the teenagers were unarmed, posed no threat to anyone, and were not engaged in any criminal activity,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote for the panel. “The incident occurred in the morning right before the start of school hours, and plaintiffs had their school uniforms and backpacks. In fact, as Officer Gutierrez approached the scene, J.N.G. was spraying on cologne and J.H. was donning his school uniform.
“Moreover, Officer Gutierrez admitted that he perceived at least J.H. to be a possible victim, not a suspect, further undermining any justification to detain him,” she continued. “We agree with the district court that under these circumstances, plaintiffs’ continued detention for five hours – well after any probable cause would have dissipated – and the use of handcuffs throughout the duration of the detention violated plaintiffs’ clearly established Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful arrest and excessive force.”
For opening fire into a group of children, Gutierrez didn't face so much as a slap on the wrist. When the LA County DA's Office investigated the shooting, they ruled it justified — claiming Gutierrez "acted in lawful self-defense and defense of another," when he opened fire on a group of innocent, unarmed children.
As for Nicholson, who is now 19 years old, he has not fully recovered and recently had bullet fragments removed from his back, Harris said.
"He may suffer from this for the rest of his life," the attorney said.