The city of La Mesa settled a civil lawsuit with a 61-year-old woman left partially blind by an officer shooting beanbag rounds during a 2020 protest of the killing of George Floyd.
Despite receiving an eight-figure award, the woman says her life has been severely altered, and no amount of money can replace what she’s lost.
The city of La Mesa settled a complaint filed on behalf of Leslie Furcron by Dante Pride in the San Diego Superior Court (and later forwarded to federal court) for $10 million, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The lawyer said in a statement, “Ms. Leslie Furcron suffered horrific, life-changing injuries at the hands of the LMPD, under circumstances that were criminal at worst and grossly negligent at best.”
The lawsuit alleged Furcron’s First Amendment right to protest was violated by La Mesa police detective Eric Knudson.
The officer shot Furcron during a protest on May 30, 2020, outside La Mesa Police Department headquarters with bean bag ammunition. He open fire on Furcron because he believed she was throwing rocks at other police.
According to the lawsuit, the officer not only impeded her right to protest but violated standard law enforcement practices. An investigation into the incident proved that the woman did not throw rocks but an empty can of Red Bull.
The settlement was actually reached in December 2022; however, it is scheduled to be approved by the La Mesa City Council in April.
The woman’s lawyer says this is one of the largest known settlements for an officer’s non-death excessive use of force case in the history of San Diego County. City officials said they were “glad” to come to a “resolution to this very unfortunate incident.”
Even though the city settled with Furcron, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and the La Mesa Police Department absolved Knudson of wrongdoing in 2021 when criminal charges were not filed.
District Attorney Summer Stephan wrote in a letter to law enforcement the officer’s actions were a reasonable use of self-defense.
“Detective Knudson believed Ms. Furcron had thrown a rock. He was incorrect. Ms. Furcron threw a can, but his belief was not unreasonable given the totality of circumstances the officers were dealing with over several hours of protesting and rioting where they were subject to rocks being thrown at them continuously,” Stephan wrote, before adding, there was “no evidence Detective Knudson intended to aim at Ms. Furcron’s head.”
The La Mesa Police Department also added their officer did not violate department policy.
“From an administrative standpoint, it is determined that Detective Knudson reacted reasonably within California law and Department policy when he discharged the less lethal shotgun in order to prevent injury to other law enforcement officers,” a report from the department officials said.
Ironically, reports show Knudson was never properly trained to shoot the firearm that injured Furcron. The gun in question actually belonged to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and not LMPD. Furthermore, the beanbag gun also went missing during the investigation into the case. Years after the inquiry into criminal charges, the weapon has not been found.
Facing no discipline from the force, Knudson was eligible and has been promoted to the rank of sergeant.
With no criminal proceedings, a civil case was the only way Pride saw his client receiving justice.
Key evidence was a video documenting the time between when Furcron threw the can and when Knudson shot her. The incident hospitalized the protester, where she was taken from the ICU and placed in a medically induced coma, according to CBS 8.
This, Pride believes, was their proverbial “Hail Mary,” moving the city to settle.
“This big number tells me that they appreciate the gravity of the situation. They appreciate the damage that was caused to Ms. Furcron. But they are still behind as far as accountability for the officer,” the attorney said.
While pleased with the award, Furcron said her life has been changed in ways the millions won’t satisfy.
She can no longer see out of her left eye and has extremely bad headaches. As a result, Furcron dropped out of college. Much worse, she will have to undergo reconstructive surgery to seal the hole left in her skull from the shooting.
Pride added in a statement, “Upon first blush, the $10 million dollar settlement seems like something significant … But in the context of the real harm done to Ms. Furcron – the gruesomeness of which played out on Facebook Live for the entire community to witness – $10 million feels pyrrhic.”
“I wish that it had never happened,” the woman said. “I thank God that I’m living, right? I thank God that I’m living, but not every day is a good day for me.”
The woman said she would not change how she chose to protest Floyd’s death.
“I’d do it again,” Furcron said. “Because I’m not OK with police brutality. I have a voice. I have a First Amendment right.”
According to the city, Furcron’s claim was handled by the Public Entity Risk Management Authority, the City of La Mesa’s insurance claim provider.