The parents of a Los Angeles area teen were awarded $3 million by a U.S. District Court judge in their wrongful death lawsuit involving the shooting of their son. However, the federal judge also determined that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers who killed the teen did not act negligently.
The shooting occurred in a parking lot in Studio City in 2010. The 18-year-old, who had just graduated from Granada Hills Charter High, had arranged to meet a friend there. Officers who were part of a task force that included members of the DEA, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) were in the lot, reportedly discussing a search warrant they had just served. They noticed the victim’s friend looking into cars, and attempted to detain him. The teen reportedly saw his friend being held, and drove his car towards a sheriff’s deputy, striking him. Agents then shot and killed him.
Exactly what happened in that parking lot has been disputed since the incident. The lawsuit contended that the teen had no way of knowing that the men holding his friend were with law enforcement because they were all in plain clothes. Therefore, he was reasonably assumed that they posed a danger, and was trying to get away when he struck the deputy. The young man’s family and friends insisted that the honors student and band member would never have intentionally harmed anyone. The suit accused the agents of acting recklessly.
Law enforcement officials, including the LA Sheriff’s Department, however, contended that the victim accelerated the vehicle, intentionally striking the deputy, and that they were justified in shooting him. While the judge in the case agreed that the agents had reason to fear for their safety, he determined that shooting at someone driving a moving vehicle would not have made the situation any safer.
People tend to have very strong opinions on both sides in cases where someone is injured or killed by law enforcement officers. The fact that this young man had no history of running afoul of the law probably helped his family’s case. One wonders if the outcome would have been the same had he not been an honors student and a well-liked young man. Regardless, families have a responsibility to hold law enforcement accountable when they feel they have acted negligently or inappropriately.
Source: The Los Angeles Times, “Family of honors teen slain by DEA agents awarded $3 million” Jill Cowan, Aug. 21, 2013