SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A jury has awarded $375,000 to a man who was injured by a rubber bullet fired by an LAPD officer during a May 2020 demonstration.
Deon Jones, 31, a Los Angeles performance artist and entrepreneur, was struck in the face by the projectile during a protest in the Fairfax district over the death of George Floyd.
He alleged in the complaint filed three years ago that he was leaving the area when Los Angeles police officer Peter Bueno, wearing riot gear, fired the rubber bullet.
The projectile caused a fracture and lacerations to Jones' cheek. The lawsuit says an ophthalmologist told Jones that if the bullet had struck millimeters from where he was actually hit, Jones could have been blinded or killed.
After a seven-day trial in Santa Ana federal court, a jury found the incident to be "malicious, oppressive, or in reckless disregard of Mr. Jones' rights."
Hundreds of people have accused the Los Angeles Police Department of excessive force during those protests and Jones is now the first protester to hold the department accountable.
Jones described that day for Eyewitness News, saying he saw the officer point his less-lethal weapon in his direction. He tried to turn away but immediately felt the projectile slam into his face.
"Think of the person who hated you the most in this world and was able to go to your face with a metal pipe," Jones said. "Literally, that's what it felt like. It felt like I was going to die that day."
The LAPD had offered Jones a settlement but he decided to go to trial. The jury awarded $250,000 in damages for his injuries and $125,000 in punitive damages. The judgment total was higher than the offered settlement.
Jones said he wasn't seeking to agitate officers that day but was seeking refuge in the parking lot of a supermarket at Third and Fairfax when he was struck. The incident was partially captured on video.
Attorney Orin Snyder, who represented Jones, said the officer who fired the projectile is an expert in the use of the weapon.
"There's no margin for error with this weapon," Snyder said. "It's a precision, target-specific weapon - meaning if Deon was shot in the face, that's where the shooter intended to shoot."
The trial utilized police bodycam footage and testimony from eyewitnesses as well as LAPD officers and others who testified that the officer violated LAPD's use-of-force policies, Snyder said.
An LAPD spokesman said the department cannot comment on pending litigation, but officials previously said the LAPD is investigating its handling of Floyd-related protests that took place throughout the city.
Attorney Janine Jeffery, who represents Bueno, issued a statement:
"We respectfully disagree with the jury's decision for the following reasons, among others: Mr. Jones gave a description of Officer Bueno that was not even close to Officer Bueno's physical appearance. Furthermore, Mr. Jones put the person he claims shot him in a completely different location than all the other witnesses placed Officer Bueno, including Plaintiff's own expert.
"Mr. Jones also gave multiple conflicting stories about the circumstances of the event. Additionally, the wound pattern on Mr. Jones' cheek is not consistent with an impact caused by a 40 mm sponge round."
The city and LAPD are also being sued in federal court by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the National Lawyers Guild in a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of protesters. That suit seeks to ban the police use of "less lethal'' projectile weapons at such gatherings.
Melina Abdullah with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles said the decision was unusual in the extent to which it held an individual officer accountable for his actions.
"What happened with him pushing this and taking it to court is really exposing LAPD, exposing individual officers, exposing the city," Abdullah said.
"This is one of the very few times we've ever seen an individual officer being held accountable. Usually they use qualified immunity, and qualified immunity is upheld to shield individual officers from accountability."
City News Service contributed to this report.