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By Miriam Raftery

March 17, 2023 (La Mesa) — The City of La Mesa has reached a settlement in a civil case filed by Leslie Furcron, a 59-year-old great-grandmother struck in the head by a beanbag projectile fired by a La Mesa Police officer during a racial justice protest that ended in a riot on May 30, 2020.  The City will pay out $10 million to Furcron in one of the largest officer use-of-force settlements in the San Diego region, according to her attorney, Dante Pride.

Pride said his client suffered “horrible, life-changing injuries” that left Furcron blind in one eye. She was put into a medically-induced coma, spent a week in the intensive care unit, and had to use a walker after the incident.  According to Pride, the officer’s actions were “grossly negligent at best” and “criminal at worst.”

The District Attorney saw things different.  A DA review found that La Mesa Police Detective Eric Knudson should not face criminal charges  and that he was acting to protect other officers, mistakenly believing Furcron had hurled a rock at officers. She had thrown an empty beverage can.

Furcron livestreamed a video while driving to the protest, in which she called police “murderers” and called for the police station to be burned down. She acknowledged the situation was a “riot” but might not arrived too late to hear police announcements ordering the crowd to disperse and declaring the protest to be an illegal gathering, after rocks and bottles had been thrown at police by others. Nearby, city hall and vehicles had been set on fire, and windows at the police dispatch center had been broken. Protesters had scrambled onto an armored bearcat vehicle in the police station parking lot.

Flash bang devices and gas cannisters had been deployed before Detective Knudson saw Furcron toss an object and fired a beanbag round which struck her in the forehead. Knudson has said he was aiming for her torso, as is required by the police department’s policies.  CBS 8 reports that the beanbag gun used to fire the shot has gone missing.

CBS 8 reports that its investigation found that the officer who shot Furcron “was not properly trained on the gun because it belonged to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.”  Sheriff’s personnel had been called in for mutual aid as civil unrest turned increasingly violent. The crowd originally came to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by white officers in Minneapolis as well as to protest a La Mesa Police Officer’s treatment of a young black man, Amaurie Johnson, at a trolley stop. That officer, Matt Dages, was later fired by the city for falsifying a police report to accuse Johnson of assaulting the officer.

The City of La Mesa has made numerous other reforms.  A new police chief, Ray Sweeney, has rolled out a six-point plan, as ECM previously reported, to restore community trust.  The City has created a community police oversight board, implemented de-escalation techniques, and worked to improve diversity in recruiting, among other changes.

Chief Sweeney, in a community forum in August 2021, acknowledged that there were things that occurred that “never should have happened” and that it’s important to remember the past, while working to restore public trust. “When we have protesters and counter protesters, that’s the hardest job in the world. Our job is to make sure everyone has a say and keep the peace,” he said at the time.

Furcron has voiced gratitude for community members who voiced support to her after her injuries. She has called herself a “productive member of society” who was attending San Diego City College before her injuries.  “I had a job as a care provider,” she said at a June 20, 2020 press conference, “but now I will need to get help to get cared for.” Furcron said she had lived in La Mesa for three years, though she was registered to vote in Lemon Grove.

Her attorney called the large settlement a “victory” and said it may be the largest payout for a non-lethal use of force incident in the county. But he added, “For victims of police misconduct, these `victories’ cannot continue to be only monetary. Justice must also be reformative, demonstrative, and in some instances penal.”  He called for holding officers accountable and changing use of force police regarding dangerous projectiles.  “We look forward to engaging with the City of La Mesa, its legislators, and the community, to this end.”


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