OAKLAND, Calif. — The city of Oakland has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who suffered third-degree burns when a "flash-bang" grenade thrown by a police officer on the city's SWAT team exploded near her during a raid.
Nicole White suffered burns over 11 percent of her body and was permanently disfigured as a result of the incident, which happened during a search of the home she was visiting on Douglas Avenue in East Oakland on Oct. 31, 2008.
White, now 31, accused police of needlessly using an "extreme level of force" when they lobbed the grenade into the house.
Without admitting wrongdoing, the City Council voted unanimously in closed session Tuesday to approve the settlement.
Police should have known that the flash-bang grenade, which is typically used to disorient dangerous suspects, could severely burn or otherwise injure an innocent bystander, White said in a suit filed last year in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. When detonated, such grenades emit a loud noise and blinding flash.
White also said that police had conducted the raid to retaliate against a man who had connections to the home, Reginald Oliver, because he had filed a class-action lawsuit three days earlier accusing officers of falsifying search warrants.
City officials denied any link between Oliver's suit and the raid, saying the SWAT team had been called in because police believed people in the home were gang members armed with guns. Two shotguns and cocaine and heroin were found during the search, police said.
But the city acknowledged that a flash-bang grenade that Officer Chris Saunders, a 10-year veteran, fired toward an unoccupied hallway hit a wall and bounced back into the living room where White had been sleeping, burning her on her chest and leg.
She spent nearly a month being treated at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco and incurred medical expenses of $400,000.
A second woman, Patricia Wilson, was also hurt and has received a $45,000 settlement from the city.
Police said they had fired the flash-bang grenade because Wilson opened the front door as they approached and then shut it, forcing them to break it open.
John Burris, White's attorney, said there had been no reason to use the flash-bang grenade because police had previously searched the home without using the device and should have known that the occupants would have been sleeping.
The two shotguns were found in the garage, and Wilson and White were not armed, Burris said. Neither woman was arrested.
"This was a real tragedy," Burris said. "Money can compensate her sufficiently for her injuries. The conduct of the police was reprehensible."
Oliver's lawsuit against police stemmed from his March 2008 arrest on drug charges. Police who subsequently searched the Douglas Avenue home reported finding 216 live rounds and a magazine for an assault weapon.
But prosecutors dismissed the case after determining that Officer Karla Rush had falsely stated on a search warrant affidavit that the alleged narcotics seized during his arrest had been confirmed as actual drugs.
It was one of a series of allegedly false statements by Oakland police seeking warrants. Rush and three other officers were fired. One officer has since regained his job through arbitration.