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L.A. to pay $1 million for police shooting death of homeless woman


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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The City of Los Angeles agreed Friday to pay nearly $1 million to settle a lawsuit over the police shooting death of a homeless woman.

Margaret Mitchell, a 54-year-old mentally ill woman, was killed May 21, 1999 by a Los Angeles police officer during a verbal confrontation after Mitchell allegedly threatened the officer with a screwdriver.

Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks concluded that Mitchell's killing was "in policy," but federal authorities are investigating whether police used excessive force or violated Mitchell's civil rights, authorities said.

"These shootings have to stop," said Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. "We are thinking in terms of the credibility of the officers and didn't think we can win in court."

The settlement resolves a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed by the family of Mitchell and the possibility of paying "several million more" if the case went to trial, said Ridley-Thomas.

The confrontation that led to Mitchell's death began while she was pushing a shopping cart along a sidewalk south of Hollywood. According to police, two officers observing Mitchell suspected the cart might have been stolen. After questioning Mitchell, police said, she became hostile and allegedly threatened to kill the officers.

According to police reports, Mitchell tried to flee and attempted to slash the officers with a screwdriver, prompting one to shoot out of fear for his safety. Mitchell was shot once in the chest and died at a hospital, police said.

Leo Terrell, an attorney representing the Mitchell family, said she never posed a threat to the officers and said witnesses offered different versions of what happened.

Mitchell's death is unrelated to an ongoing LAPD corruption scandal, but the city has paid more than $32 million in police-related lawsuits since April, according to city officials.

Last month, the city settled the largest police brutality case in its history by agreeing to pay $15 million to a man who was paralyzed in a 1996 police shooting.

Javier Francisco Ovando, 23, reached a settlement after authorities concluded he was framed by former officer Rafael Perez and his partner Nino Durden.

Perez, who is cooperating with authorities in exchange for a plea agreement on cocaine theft charges, has told investigators that officers routinely planted evidence, framed and even shot innocent people.

More than 70 lawsuits and 80 claims have been filed related to alleged corruption in the LAPD Rampart division's anti-gang unit, according to city spokesman Mike Qualls.

Mayor Richard Riordan estimates that settlements in the scandal could exceed $125 million. Three officers were convicted of conspiracy and perjury November 15 in the first trial stemming from the corruption scandal.

Since the corruption scandal emerged, more than 100 criminal convictions have been overturned, and at least 70 officers are under investigation. Most of the civil claims pending are related to wrongful convictions, according to spokesman Qualls.

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