By Emilie St. John
INGLEWOOD — The city of Inglewood has settled a case related to traffic accident driving involving Mayor James T. Butts Jr.
“The city of Inglewood has settled with my client Karina Gomez in the amount of $425,000 and tentatively with her son for $25,000,” said Dylan Dordick, the attorney of record for Gomez.
“The case against the city can’t be dismissed until the court approves the settlement for Ms. Gomez’s son, which we hope to have done within the next 30 days,” Dordick added.
The case was settled prior to a deposition being taken by Butts, according to Dordick.
The damages arose from Butts reportedly making an illegal turn on a red light near USC in 2019.
According to the police report, Butts was listed as “Party 1,” indicating he caused the accident.
The mayor was driving a city vehicle registered to the Inglewood Police Department on April 30, 2019, and was reportedly headed to a speaking engagement at USC when he made a left turn on a red light and into oncoming traffic.
Butts hit the first vehicle, which was being driven by Gomez who had her child in the backseat. Sitting stationary in front of USC was an LAPD motorcycle officer who took the brunt of the impact which threw him off his motorcycle and into a fountain.
The crash was caught on video.
Butts admitted being at fault in the accident during the May 7, 2019 City Council meeting.
“For whatever fault is to be assessed in this accident, that is mine, I accept it,” Butts said.
Butts is not personally liable for any of the damages because he was driving a city-owned vehicle that isn’t part of his compensation. The city provides members of the City Council, including the mayor, with an auto allowance that none of them use.
The city leased the Tahoe for $1,500 a month starting in July 2016 and paid $52,380 total by the time the lease expired, according to public documents.
According to City Manager Artie Fields, the vehicle was leased for use by “administrative staff and the mayor,” although no city the records specifically mention Butts as the intended driver.
The city has repeatedly ignored public records requests for records of all assigned drivers to city-owned vehicles.
An ordinance related to auto allowances does permit the police chief, specifically, to waive his allowance in exchange for a city-owned vehicle.
“Common sense and the lack of an enumerated prohibition would tell one that the mayor would have the same or greater right to use a city vehicle as a department head,” Fields said in an email.
According to the city’s salary ordinance, the mayor’s position is not considered to be a department head. The only elected official who doubles as a department head is the city clerk.
Fields said he gave Butts permission to use the vehicle whenever he wants because the mayor is the city’s chief executive officer and on call 24 hours a day for major crime and other incidents.
The city has yet to settle with the motor officer who also was hurt in the collision. That case could cost the city millions of dollars because the officer’s spouse had to give up her private practice as a physician to become his primary caregiver.
The city has declined to provide legal costs paid out for this case citing “attorney-client privilege.”
Despite the mayor’s accident, and the legal costs being charged to taxpayers, another city-owned Chevy Tahoe has been provided to him for his exclusive use.
The mayor was seen being chauffeured in the vehicle by a city employee to court appearances and a ribbon cutting ceremony. The mayor also was photographed by the city’s media team exiting the vehicle at the KDAY Krush Groove concert at the Kia Forum earlier this year.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.