Inglewood faces three lawsuits stemming from an April 2019 crash involving Mayor James T. Butts Jr. that “severely injured” an LAPD officer, with one of the suits asking for more than $300,000 and the other two pushing for undisclosed amounts.

Butts, whose driving is described as negligent in all three lawsuits, allegedly ran a red arrow while turning left onto the USC campus to attend an economic summit on behalf of the city, according to a claim filed by the city of Los Angeles. Another vehicle smashed into the side of the Inglewood-owned Chevy Tahoe driven by Butts and sent it spinning into a parked motorcycle officer. The impact flung the officer and his motorcycle into a nearby fountain.

Officer Michael Flynn suffered broken ribs, damage to his nervous system and “permanent physical disability, impairment, scarring and disfigurement,” according to a lawsuit filed on his behalf. The other driver, Karina Gomez, and her 4-year-old son reportedly had complaints of pain, according to a report entered into evidence, but their injuries have not been disclosed.

Los Angeles’ lawsuit lists $290,000 in damages, thus far, to cover Flynn’s workers’ compensation and damage to city property. L.A.’s original claim referenced an additional $39,000 in medical costs for the officer.

Separately, Flynn and his wife, who filed a joint lawsuit against Inglewood and Butts, are asking for an unspecified amount to cover loss of income, medical expenses, personal property damage and damage to their relationship. The third lawsuit from the crash, filed by Gomez and her son, similarly cites wage losses, property damage, past and future medical costs, and emotional distress.

Gomez’s attorney, Dylan Dordick, said the lawsuit does not include a dollar figure because it is “too early to tell” what lasting effects the crash might have, he said.

“The hard part with these types of cases is, to some degree, you have to predict the future,” Dordick said. “What care will our client going forward need for the rest of her life, how will she do in the future.”

Flynn’s attorney, Alan Snitzer, could not be reached for comment.

The Chevy Tahoe driven by Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. is seen adjacent to a water fountain in Exposition Park near USC, where an LAPD motorcycle officer came to rest after he was struck. (Image courtesy of ABC7)

Mayor accepts responsibility

Butts had previously indicated he would take responsibility if investigators determined he was to blame for the crash.

During an Inglewood City Council meeting days after the accident, Butts said he was heartbroken to learn the officer had been injured. The former Santa Monica police chief had also worked as a motor officer and was hit twice by cars, he explained.

“For whatever fault is to be assessed in this accident, that is mine, I accept it,” Butts said.

The City Council, however, nevertheless rejected damage claims from the injured officer, the city of Los Angeles, and Gomez and her son, according to the lawsuits.

Inglewood’s rejection letter to Los Angeles does not explain the reasoning. Tom Madruga, the attorney representing the city in all three cases, declined to discuss the cases or the rejections, saying they are “product of confidential deliberations.”

“The City just filed answer to the Complaint. We have began the discovery phase to gather all of the facts. We cannot comment further as the litigation is ongoing,” Madruga said in a statement. He added that the city wishes Flynn, Gomez and her child “a speedy recovery.”

Was officer partly negligent?

The city’s response to Flynn’s complaint, filed in March, is identical to its response to Los Angeles’ claim last year. It issues a general boilerplate denial and asserts 23 broad defenses. The nonspecific defenses range from claiming immunity, to arguing Flynn “knew and voluntarily undertook the risks that led to the injuries,” that Flynn’s own negligence “contributed to the alleged damages,” and that the motor officer had consented to the actions that led to his injuries.

Inglewood’s latest filing suggests Inglewood may push to have its share of any awarded damages reduced as it alleges a unspecified third party is at least partially responsible.

No citation for mayor

Though Los Angeles’ claim states Butts broke the law by running a red light and video released of the accident seems to support it, Butts was never cited or charged. The LAPD refused to release records for the crash through a public records request.

Detective Meghan Aguilar, with the department’s media relations division, explained it is common not to cite parties in traffic accidents if there is no criminal activity, such as a drunken driving or recklessness, she said. Butts did not receive any special treatment, she said.

“When a party is found ‘at fault,’ they do not automatically receive a citation,” she said in an email. “No criminal case resulted from this accident. LAPD followed the standard procedures for completing a traffic collision investigation regardless of the parties involved.”

Bruce Thomas, a security consultant and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant, previously reviewed footage of the crash for ABC7. Reached by phone, Thomas said he wasn’t surprised Butts did not receive a citation even if he was determined to be at fault as the footage suggested. Even in a case with serious injuries, the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department do not typically cite for traffic collisions, though other law enforcement agencies might, Thomas said.

Still, the evidence collected and determination of fault will be used in the lawsuits, Thomas said.

“That all comes about in the civil trial,” he said. “He was definitely the party at fault based on the video I saw.”

California

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