San Jose Mercury News: San Jose bounty hunter, wrongly shot by LAPD cops, wins $1.65 million settlement

Mercury News: San Jose bounty hunter, wrongly shot by LAPD cops, wins $1.65 million settlement
By Tracey Kaplan January 20, 2011

A San Jose bounty hunter who was gunned down without provocation by a Los Angeles police officer while trying to take a fugitive into custody has been awarded $1.165 million by a federal jury.

The officer claimed he shot bail agent E.A. Gilbert twice in self-defense at a housing project after dark on Nov. 30, 2005, after Gilbert pointed a .45-caliber gun at him and his partner. Both said they mistook Gilbert and another bounty hunter as robbers as they were subduing a bail jumper.

But the jury last week found Officer Daniel Pearce used excessive force and believed Gilbert’s claim that his gun was never aimed at the cops. Jurors based their decision on eyewitness accounts as well as physical evidence, including the trajectory of the bullets.

More than the money, the outcome represents vindication for the 53-year-old bail agent, who couldn’t get an attorney to take his case for years after the LAPD found the shooting was justified. Gilbert was shot in the arm and torso, creating wounds that required removal of a 12-inch section of his intestines.

“I like to think of myself as one of the good guys,” Gilbert said Thursday. “As a bail agent, I’m an officer of the court. So, if the police made a mistake — by shooting first and asking questions later in a gang-infested neighborhood — OK, just admit it.

“What was really disturbing was the people whose salaries we pay constructed lies.”

Gilbert said he unsuccessfully approached 30 attorneys about taking his case. Deciding to represent himself, the bail agent drove down to Los Angeles and met with the city attorney’s office, which offered him $5,000 to settle the case.

But it wasn’t until he went to a local church in 2008 and struck up a conversation with someone there that things started looking up.

The parishioner told him about De-bug, an ethnic media outlet/collective that runs a free legal clinic every Sunday. The group is best known for picketing San Jose City Council meetings to protest use of force and arrest practices by police in immigrant communities.

The group referred Gilbert to Southern California lawyer Dale Galipo, who took the case. Galipo was in trial Thursday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

De-bug coordinator Raj Jayadev said the verdict is a victory against police misconduct — and of the human spirit.

“I saw Andre come every Sunday lugging his case in boxes, just wanting some basic support, even it was just a community that would believe in him,” Jayadev said. “Every time he shared his story — the shooting, the painful recovery, and the struggle to find an attorney — you could see how much it took out of him. He persevered despite every pressure for him to stop, he is a true inspiration to our community.”

Gilbert, who has a grown daughter and is an avid horseman, spent much of his childhood living in East San Jose and he attended Silver Creek High School.

His next step is to write a book, he said. As for the money, Gilbert has no grand plans. A former recruiter for high-tech companies who lost his job in the bust, he said he doesn’t have much put away for his old age.

“I’m going to save it for retirement,” he said. “I’m definitely behind the eight-ball on that.”

For now, he’s still a bail agent who appears in court and handles the legal paperwork. But he said his days of taking down the bad guys are over.

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