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Landlord Gets Largest Settlement in City’s History

Los Angeles Times
By Roxana Kopetman – Times Staff Writer

August 2, 1992

Police: Jury awards $6.75 million to a man whom an officer wounded, mistaking him for a fleeing suspect.

Vanmalibhai Galal had just collected rent from a tenant in his central Long Beach hotel and turned to walk to his apartment a few feet away. Before he made it home, however, he saw “a very big blue light.”

It was the flash of a gun going off:

A Long Beach police officer accidentally shot Galal, confusing the landlord, who was then 59, with a suspect he was chasing-although the suspect was young and had shoulder-length blond hair.

Standing at the spot where he was seriously wounded in the abdomen on Jan 19, 1986, Galal recently recalled Officer Gregory Allison running up to him. “I told him, “The man you were chasing [went] that way, and why [did] you shoot me?” He said: ‘I am sorry. It is my mistake.'”

That mistake recently resulted in the largest liability judgment in the city’s history. On July 24, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded Galal and his wife, Valiben, $6.75 million.

City officials, who plan to seek a new trial, called the judgment outrageous.

The payment would put a dent in the city’s already battered budget. It also further tarnished a Police Department that has suffered a number of setbacks recently.

During the last year, the department has been ordered to pay $3.1 million to two former policewomen who sued for sexual harassment on the job and $180,000 to a young couple who said officers beat them while breaking up a punk rock party downtown. The federal court judge also doubled the fee of the couple’s attorney, saying such compensation is needed to “attract competent counsel to represent civil rights/police misconduct action.”

In Galal’s case, jurors awarded a large sum because they agreed with the injured man that the Long Beach Police Department had tried to cover up the shooting, said John Taylor, one of Galal’s attorneys.

Taylor said police moved evidence around and at one point attempted to frame another man for the shooting.

Galal’s son Mahesh, 33, testified that an investigator at the scene of the shooting told him that his father was shot by a robber. The investigator even showed him a picture of the suspect, Mahesh Galal said.

The younger Galal was so upset that he took his shotgun and placed it in the back of his truck, aiming to find the stranger, he said. “I was going to kill this guy.”

His father was in serious condition and it was unclear whether he would live. But the next day, Vanmalibhai Galal was able to talk. And that’s when Mahesh Galal learned that the shot was fired by a police officer,

“I think they thought he would die, and this would all go away,” Mahesh Galal said.

William A. Reidder, senior deputy city attorney, called the Galal’s allegation “absolute nonsense” Minutes after the shooting, dispatchers announced over the police radio that an officer had been involved in a shooting, he said, so they were not trying to cover anything up.

Reidder said the ethnically diverse jury-10 of the 12 jurors were minorities – may have been swayed by anti-law enforcement sentiment in Los Angeles County.

“This is not a civil rights case. This is, at best, a self-defense, mistaken identity case. This jury was biased by passion and prejudice,” he said.

Reidder said Allison was chasing a gunman through a breezeway of Galal’s Arcade Hotel and apartment building on Long Beach Boulevard near 10th Street. When the officer turned the corner, he saw a man crouched down, with “a shiny object in front of the individual.”

It was after 10 p.m. and dark, and the officer mistook the shiny object – later identified as a chromeplated dustpan – for a gun.

Vanmalibhai Galal testified that he was standing up, not crouching, and that the dustpan was nowhere near him.

Aiding the Galal case was testimony from former Long Beach Police Chief
Lawrence L. Binkley, who said the city’s officers lacked training and that
he was often prevented from disciplining them. If was the second time that
Binkley has testified against the city since he was fired in January.

Allison, 35, an 11-year-veteran of the department and once named a “top cop” by Binkley, could not be reached for comment.

The Galals said they are pleased with the jury’s decision.

“The jury was very fair,” said the elder Galal, a native of India who lived for 25 years in England before moving to Long Beach in 1980.

Galal, who lives in an apartment in his drab building on Long Beach Boulevard, declined to say what he will do with the millions he won from the city. His wife, who speaks little English said: “I buy a new house.”

Regardless of the verdict, the father of four and grandfather of five said the shooting has already changed his life.

Since the shooting, Galal has undergone a number of operations and needs more, he said. He walks much more slowly now, and something as simple as coughing can cause him pain.

An avid gardener who once enjoyed growing beans and spinach, Galal said he has had to give up gardening and his chores around the two apartment buildings he owns in Long Beach and Inglewood. Those chores now fall mostly to his 63-year-old wife, he said.

Galal also said he has learned to distrust police. He said he won’t even watch police shows on television, finding them disturbing. And more than four years later, he still has nightmares of the shooting.

“When I sleep,” Galal said haltingly. “I many times dream of that blue light. And I wake up scared.”

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