Investigators have found insufficient evidence to file any criminal charges in the jail cell death of college football star Ron Settles, the Los Angeles County district attorney announced today.
District attorney John Van de Kamp criticized the Signal Hill Police Department, in whose jail cell Settles, a 21-year-old running back for California State University at Long Beach, was found hanged last June. But he said a seven-month-long investigation by his office had failed to develop sufficient evidence to prosecute any officers.
Settles was arrested by Signal Hill police officer Jerry Lee Brown last June 2 for a traffic violation. Brown said he found a cocaine kit in the car after Settles reached under a seat for a knife. Traces of cocaine and PCP were later found in the kit.
Signal Hill police officers admitted that they beat Settles, who they said was belligerent, in the booking area of the jail. After he was subdued, the officers said, they put him in a holding cell and had no further contact with him until they found him hanging, dead, in the cell.
The Signal Hill police claim that Settles committed suicide, but Settles' family and friends insisted he would never have killed himself. They said Settles did not take drugs and the cocaine kit was not his.
Last September, a Los Angeles County coroner's inquest ruled Settles died "at the hands of another."
Van de Kamp said today that his office is "not reasonably certain that a crime has been committed, even though we cannot say with absolute finality that a crime was not committed. And second, there is insufficient evidence to establish the identity of anyone as a perpetrator of any crime directly related to Mr. Settles' death. And therefore I cannot in good conscience file homicide charges against anyone in this particular case."
"Whatever happened June 2, a long, hard look at the Signal Hill Police Department is in order," Van de Kamp said. His office has already filed criminal charges against four Signal Hill officers, one of whom allegedly set a dog on a prisoner.
Donnell Settles, the father of the dead man, said he was "very disappointed" by Van de Kamp's decision and that he felt "as if June 2 had just taken place--and it's a very horrible feeling." In response to the district attorney's statement that his son's death had at least led to the wider investigation of the police in Signal Hill, the elder Settles said, "That's what we call tokenism."
Van de Kamp said today that although charges were not filed, he was not ruling on the proximate cause of Settles' death. "I frankly doubt that we will ever know for certain the proximate cause of Ron Settles' death. All we can be certain of is that Ron Settles died of asphyxiation on the afternoon of June 2 in the Signal Hill jail, and that his death is both tragic and wasteful."
Last December Settles' parents filed a $62 million lawsuit against the city of Signal Hill and several city and police officials, charging wrongful death and civil rights violations. A deputy to Van de Kamp said today that the district attorney's ruling would have no impact on the civil suit.