Watch CBSN Live

LAPD Sued Over Robber's Rights

The Los Angeles Police Department, already troubled by a corruption scandal, is also defending itself in the case of a bank robber who died following a 1997 gun battle. No one has faulted the cops for shooting, CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, but they're still being sued for violating the robber's rights.

The shootout was chaos witnessed on national television. Two heavily-armed robbers fired 1,200 rounds, outgunning the LAPD on the streets of North Hollywood. Eleven officers and six civilians were wounded.

Both suspects were cornered and killed after 45 horrific minutes; it's the way the second gunman, 30-year-old Emil Matasareanu, died that's led to a lawsuit on behalf of his young children.

Plaintiffs attorney Steve Yagman claimed in federal court that police let Matasareanu bleed to death. And like it or not, even bad guys have rights. "He didnt bleed to death before he could be taken to the hospital," Yagman said. "He bled to death after he could have been taken to the hospital. Thats what the problem is."

Matasareanu, wounded 29 times by police, lay handcuffed in the street for nearly an hour before he died. Dora Lubensky watched from her home and testified, "he was moving. And no paramedics came to him or anybody like that."

Police contend thats because the situation was still chaotic, the area too dangerous for paramedics who had been called but were busy helping other shooting victims. Police say they tried to keep Matasareanu calm.

"There's a principle in medicine called triage, where you take care of those people you think can survive," explained Don Vincent, assistant city attorney.

The case will be tough to prove. The police were honored as heroes, while the alleged victim was seen as someone who brought it on himself.

According to Loyola Law School's Laurie Levenson, "They have a fairly unsympathetic client. He caused a grave danger to the police and some people think he got what he deserved. On the other hand, police are not supposed to let somebody just bleed to death on the pavement."

And that's the issue the jury will be asked to decide. Did Matasareanu die because police were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, or did they really try to save the life of the bank robber who an hour earlier was intent on taking theirs?

View CBS News In