City settles police shooting case for $4.5M

DOWNEY - The city of Downey has agreed to pay $4.5 million to the family of Michael Nida, the unarmed man fatally shot by Downey Police on Oct. 22, 2011. Dale Galipo, the attorney representing Nida's family in a civil lawsuit against the city, announced the settlement Monday.

According to the L.A. County Coroner, Nida was shot at least three times. Many media outlets, including the L.A. Times and Press-Telegram, have reported he was shot in the back.

Downey police had been investigating an ATM robbery near Imperial Highway and Paramount Boulevard when Nida, 31, ran from officers. He was shot by Officer Steven Gilley, who said he feared Nida was a "fleeing felon" who was about to take someone hostage or attempt a carjacking. Gilley was cleared of criminal charges by the L.A. County District Attorney.

At a news conference Wednesday in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, friends and family of Nida said they had mixed emotions about accepting the settlement.

"It would have been nice to hear a guilty verdict from the jury, but my mom was recently in a car accident and we had to think of Michael's children," said Terri Thaxton-Teramura, Nida's sister. "We've worked very hard to protect them from things. They haven't seen any of the evidence from the case, they weren't at the scene when it happened. We're concerned for their emotional well-being. The settlement will be enough money to support them. Michael was their provider and their provider was robbed from them, so someone had to step up and provide for these kids."

Thaxton-Teramura said the settlement money will be placed in a trust for Nida's four children. They can access the money when they turn 18.

"The settlement doesn't mean this is over," Thaxton-Teramura added. "We still want to file criminal charges against Officer Steve Gilley. We want to see him prosecuted and we hope the Department of Justice reopens the case and investigates. The fight isn't over."

Jean Thaxton is Nida's aunt but identifies herself as his mother. On Facebook, she said Nida's children were "the biggest factor" in settlement negotiations.

"Our hearts were breaking, thinking they were going to have to sit in that courtroom and hear awful things said about their daddy...untrue things, but still very hurtful," Thaxton said. "We didn't want them in there when autopsy photos were introduced. We didn't want them in there when they replayed the audio hearing their daddy saying 'I have to get to my babies.' We didn't want our babies, his babies, haunted for the rest of their lives."

The city of Downey issued a tersely-worded statement Wednesday that read, in part: "Any proposed settlement must be reviewed and approved by a federal judge. Until that time, the insurance risk pool's decisions for this matter are beyond the City's control.

"With regard to the actual facts of this case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office report is available and provides an unbiased assessment of the shooting. The City invites anyone who is interested in the real facts to review that report."

Privately, Downey officials raised concerns after a jury last week awarded $8.8 million to the family of an unarmed man fatally shot in Culver City. In that case, jurors deliberated only about three hours before ruling against the city.

Supporters of Michael Nida said they will continue to protest in Downey against "killer cops" and police brutality.

"People from our communities can't find justice in the courts, but we can find it in the streets. We will continue our work to change the system," said Damion Ramirez, best friend of Michael Nida and a founding member of the activist group Nida's Rydas. "We don't live in our grandparent's world and we don't want our kids living in ours. We're going to keep fighting to make sure the next generation has it better than we did, especially in the city of Downey where people complain of being racially profiled by officers all of the time. We can't keep pretending that Downey is the predominantly white suburb it used to be."

Nida's father, Michael Nida Sr., said he viewed the settlement as "an admission of guilt" on the part of the city but added that "money is not justice."

"I live in West Virginia and can't be here all the time, but it has been very hard on our family," he said. "Especially for Michael's wife and their children, who had their father taken away from them when Michael was so young and while they were so young. We're forever brokenhearted. It's like an open wound that won't heal.

"There is no amount of money in the world that will ever make Michael's death OK. Money is not justice. I still get a sick feeling whenever I think about it. I always ask myself, when will it be better? When will we feel OK again? When will the pain stop? It won't. The only benefit of the settlement is that things won't be so hard for the kids. It's bad enough they won't have their father, but at least they will be provided for."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Michael Nida was shot five times by a Downey police officer. He was shot at least three times. A fourth wound was likely a reentry wound from another gunshot, according to the L.A. County Coroner.

********** Published: May 16, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 05