Settlement in Civil Rights Suit Over Texas Police Shooting

The family of a former major league baseball player whose son mistakenly was shot by a police sergeant outside their Houston-area home has settled a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Bellaire and the officer.

The $110,000 settlement was signed Tuesday as trial was to begin in the case of Robert Tolan, son of former major leaguer Bobby Tolan.

Robert Tolan's family and a cousin sued the city and Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, alleging unconstitutional excessive force was used when the unarmed Tolan was shot on New Year's Eve 2008. Police mistakenly believed he was armed and had stolen a vehicle with his cousin, Anthony Cooper.

The suit also accused Bellaire and police of racial profiling, false arrest and racial harassment. Tolan, who was injured, is black. The officer is white.

"Though I still have my son, I've had to watch his dreams and part of his spirit die," Tolan's mother, Marian, said. "We've given up so much as a family for a chance at justice, a chance at peace, a chance at being whole again. This has been a horrific experience."

She said she and her son, through a foundation carrying his name, hoped to help families going through similar experiences.

According to the agreement, Bellaire and Cotton deny liability but the payment is a compromise "to avoid further expense of litigation and disruption of public service."

Attorney Bill Helfand, who represented Cotton and the city, told the Houston Chronicle that trials, appeals and legal proceedings are expensive and time consuming and settlements "are in no way an indication of any fault on any party."

Cotton was acquitted of criminal charges in 2010. Evidence showed officers mistakenly tried to arrest Tolan and Cooper, and an officer typed in the wrong license plate when checking Tolan's sport utility vehicle. Surgeons were unable to remove a bullet lodged in Tolan's liver, preventing him from playing in the majors like his father, who played for five teams during a 13-year MLB career.

U.S District Judge Melinda Harmon earlier granted a summary judgment in the lawsuit in favor of Cotton and the city. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, but the U.S. Supreme Court last year reinstated the lawsuit.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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