The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $2.7 million payment to the family of a man fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy in Santa Clarita on January 14, 2016.
The supervisors approved a recommendation to settle, inclusive of attorney’s fees and costs, a wrongful death and federal civil rights lawsuit (United States District Court Case No. CV 16-09412) filed by decedent Miguel A. Hernandez’s parents and three minor children, alleging federal civil rights violations and the wrongful death of Mr. Hernandez.
While the deputy involved claims his actions were reasonable under the circumstances, given the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs. Therefore, the LA County Contract Cities Liability Trust Fund Claims Board recommended a full and final settlement of the case in the amount of $2,700,000, according to the motion to approve the payment.
The motion recounted the incident as follows:
“On January 14, 2016, a deputy sheriff attended his shift briefing and learned about an incident that occurred the prior day where a driver of a white and gray two-tone Lexus with halogen headlights was involved in a road rage incident that ended with the driver firing a handgun at the victim.
“At approximately 7:45 p.m., the deputy sheriff was on routine patrol in a one-man marked patrol vehicle when he observed a Lexus vehicle that matched the description of the road rage suspect’s vehicle. The Lexus had dark tint in the front and rear passenger windows that obstructed the view of the vehicle’s occupants.
“The deputy sheriff followed the Lexus a short distance then he attempted to initiate a traffic stop. The Lexus’ driver deceptively used his turn signal several times indicating he was going to turn left onto two different cul-de-sac roads, but then changed his direction and failed to pull over
“On the third street, the Lexus driver made a left turn and finally pulled over to the right curb. The deputy sheriff immediately exited his patrol vehicle and pointed his duty weapon toward the driver. The dep[ury sheriff ordered the driver to turn off his engine. As the deputy sheriff advanced toward the Lexus, he stopped at the front bumper of his patrol vehicle.
“Without being instructed, the decedent (and only known occupant of the car) suddenly exited the driver’s door and used vulgar language to express his agitation for being stopped. The decedent bladed his body and kept his right hand out of view of the deputy sheriff, near the right side of his body.
“The attempt to keep his right hand out of view caused the deputy sheriff to fear the decedent could be in possession of a firearm or other deadly weapon, and he was concealing it in order to gain an advantage during a possible pending attack. The deputy sheriff remained at the front bumper of his patrol vehicle and ordered the decedent to show his hands several times. Several attempts to have the decedent show his hands were unsuccessful and the decedent remained verbally and physically uncooperative.
“Moments later, the decedent quickly twisted his body toward the deputy sheriff and made a sudden “jerking motion” with his right hand from a concealed position behind his body. Believing the decedent was drawing a gun and about to fire upon him, the deputy sheriff fired one round from his service weapon, striking the decedent in the left shoulder (the bullet traveled laterally into his upper torso, striking vital internal organs). The decedent fell to the ground with his hands underneath his torso.
“The deputy sheriff approached the decedent as he was lying near the open door of the Lexus. The deputy sheriff held the decedent down with one knee and utilized his portable radio to broadcast he was involved in a shooting and requested emergency medical services for the decedent.
“When the second deputy sheriff arrived, both deputy sheriffs rolled the decedent over to search, handcuff and provide medical aid. Upon rolling the decedent, the deputy sheriffs discovered a folding knife, with a three-inch blade locked in an open position, underneath the decedent’s legs.
“The Lexus had dark tinted windows that made it difficult to see if there were any occupants inside. Before providing medical aid to the decedent, the second dep[uty sheriff checked the interior of the Lexus and discovered there was another occupant in the back seat. The deputy sheriffs then divided their attention to control the second occupant while attempting to provide aid to the decedent. Paramedics arrived on scene a few seconds later and once the second occupant was detained, they began providing medical aid to the decedent.
“The second occupant was arrested as he was found to be a parolee-at-large and in possession of illicit narcotics.”
The motion listed the root causes as follows:
“1. A Department root cause in this incident was the deputy sheriff failed to conduct any pre-stop coordination or request any additional units prior to making a traffic stop on a vehicle matching the description of a vehicle used in a recent assault with a deadly weapon-firearm incident.
“2. Another Department root cause was the deputy sheriff failed to obtain a position of advantage or obtain backup prior to approaching the vehicle or after contacting the decedent.
“3. Another Department root cause was the deputy sheriff put himself in danger when he approached the vehicle and remained with the decedent, without first clearing the vehicle and/or obtaining backup.
“4). A non-Department root cause was the failure of the decedent to comply with the lawful orders of the Los Angeles County deputy sheriff.”
The incident was investigated by the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau to determine if any criminal misconduct occurred.
The county’s District Attorney concluded on January 30, 2017 that the deputy acted lawfully in self-defense during the 2016 incident and no charges were filed.
On September 21, 2017, the county’s Executive Force Review Committee determined the deputy’s use of force was within department policy. However, the tactics were out of policy, and “appropriate administrative action was taken,” the motion reads.