June 2, 1981: Ron Settles was murdered while in police custody by Signal Hill Police in California.
Ron Settles was a California State University, Long Beach and Banning High School football player who was arrested by the Signal Hill Police Department in 1981.
The Arrest and Murder:
The incident began when he was pulled over for speeding by the Signal Hill Police Department in Long Beach, California. He was arrested after a scuffle with SHPD white officers.
The morning after his arrest, he was found severely beaten and hung in his jail cell. A furor erupted afterwards over the nature of his death, as the police said the death was a suicide. No one was prosecuted for Settles’ death, but the city of Signal Hill did pay a large settlement to the family.
The case had long-term impacts on the reputation of Signal Hill, although a new police chief took steps to reform the police department. The case was an early high-profile case handled by attorney Johnnie Cochran, who represented the family. One of the policemen implicated in the incident was also represented by another noted civil rights attorney, Stephen Yagman.
In a subsequent coroner’s inquest, attorney Johnny Cochran demonstrated the chokehold, which resulted in a jury’s finding that Settles had died “at the hands of another.” Moreover, the decision was reversed in court following the testimony of Dr. Michael Baden, who determined there was no evidence that Settles had died from hanging, but was most likely killed by a chokehold.
The city settled with the Settles out of court in 1983 for $1 million dollars.
Settles’ death was one of several highly controversial deaths of arrestees in the 1970s and 80s that changed the way police departments dealt with prisoners. Many police departments now videotape jail areas; any time a police officer or correctional officer touches a prisoner in a restraining way, a report is required to be written. These measures are intended to decrease the chances of police brutality in prison cells.
In Pop Culture: Settles’ story was told by Dr. Baden on the HBO series, Autopsy.
Charles Burnett’s 1995 film, The Glass Shield, was partially based on the Settles case.
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I remember that case!!! A young life gone! Almost nothing has changed! Now, a choke hold on a new york st.! (Eric Garner) Or a traffic stop ends in Sandra Blands death! Yesterdas; there was a video of a cop raping someone child in a jail cell!!! Knocking her out!… And when she tried 2 fight he’d hit her again & continued to rape her!!! IN JAIL! ON CAMERA!
I not only remember this incident with this young man, but Johnny Cochran and his wife were at a community breakfast, me and my then husband attended and he told everyone in attendance the story. As a former employee of Long Beach, the Signal Hill Police do not play. I have seen then tackle a suspect. There are policemen there that probably were there when this happened and are about to retire do to age.
I can see now police brutality is no new phenomenon. It has been around forever. Cameras are everywhere now and police can no longer hide their misdeeds..
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Wow! How did you comoe up with atht coolpost?
That Case I Remember Damn Well…
It was 25 Miles South of Me in Signal Hill, Which was Just Outside of Long Beach, California, Around 25 Miles South of L.A. Signal Hill was an Oil Town & Was Incorporated Back in the Mid 20’s as a L.A. County Suburban City.
Signal Hill was Just an Another Mayberry, with a Small City Government, a Largely White City Council & With its Own Police Department, Run By a Unqualified Police Chief who was Later Arrested for a Shoplifting Incident 70 Miles Away at a Sears Store in Ventura County.
In News Reports Provided By The L.A. Times & the Now Defunct Herald Examiner, the Two Papers Published Scathing Reports on The City of Signal Hill, it’s Long Time White City Council Members that had Been on the Council since the Early 60’s, it’s Troubled City Police Department that Hired Rejects from Other Departments, The Mistreatment of Afro Americans by Signal Hill Cops & the City Council Wouldn’t Do Squat about the Mistreatments.
& It was All Types of Abuse by Signal Hill Police, Such as Signal Hill Cops would Drive into the Neighboring City of Long Beach Looking For Blacks to Harass & Arrest, the K-9 Dog that would be Let Loose in the Jail Cell & Attack Combative Suspects that were in Custody, the Police Chief was Not Qualified or Certified by California’s Peace Officer Status & was Later Arrested 70 Miles Away in Ventura County for Shoplifting Tools at a Sears Store After he Stepped Down, the Signal Hill Officer Who Arrested Ron Settles was an Former LAPD Officer who Left That Department Under a Cloud of Suspicious Activities.
Changes were Made in Signal Hill, but Not Enough!
My nephew’s father was stopped by the SHPD while walking from a minimarket in Signal Hill to his parents house across the street in Long Beach. He was detained by SHPD but they had no cause to arrest him, but it still took several hours for my sister to first, get the watch commander to “find” him (since he hadn’t been arrested), and second, get him “released”. This was in the late 1980s, I don’t remember the year. But I do remember the fear that he might be “Settled” by SHPD. That day was terrifying. It was the first time I really understood what “Walking While Black” meant.