LA supes consider $3.3M settlement for family of man killed by sheriff's deputies

In Summer 2015, deputies shot and killed John Berry in front of his family’s Lakewood home. Berry was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode.
In Summer 2015, deputies shot and killed John Berry in front of his family’s Lakewood home. Berry was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode. Courtesy of the Berry family

Los Angeles County is expected to pay $3.3 million to the family of John Berry, an unarmed man killed by sheriff’s deputies in 2015 while he was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode. The videotaped shooting helped draw attention to two problems at the sheriff’s department: the frequency with which deputies opened fire at moving cars and how they treat the mentally ill.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is set to consider the payment - designed to settle the family's wrongful death lawsuit - in closed session Tuesday.

Berry's family had called deputies for help because the 31-year-old restaurant manager refused to get out of his car outside their Lakewood home. His brother Chris had hoped deputies might be able to take him to a psychiatric hospital.

Deputies first surrounded the car with their patrol vehicles, then tried to get Berry out of the car using a baton and Taser.

Four of them opened fire when Berry threw his parked BMW in reverse and moved slowly towards a deputy. 

"I think about Johnnie every day," said his brother, Chris Berry.

The L.A. County District Attorney determined the deputies acted lawfully because they believed the life of one of their colleagues was in danger. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled police have wide latitude when it comes to using deadly force when they believe a life is in danger.

State law requires the sheriff's department to keep secret any discipline that might have been handed down to the deputies. For Chris Berry, there is no question they caused his brother's death.

"They were the aggressors. It escalated because of their actions," he said.

At the same time, he said he is encouraged that the sheriff's department is providing more training to deputies no how to deal with people who are mentally ill, who may appear to be dangerous but are not.

"I’ve known my brother long enough he didn’t mean to hurt anybody," Berry told KPCC during the station’s investigation into officer-involved shootings. "He was terrified."

After he died, John Berry's family found a stack of papers in the BMW, among them his goals.

"I want to be more functional and have a better life," he'd written.

Berry's killing was highlighted in a KPCC investigation that found sheriff’s deputies over a five-year period shot at moving cars far more often than the LAPD. The department has since tightened its policy on shooting at moving cars and is providing more mental health training for deputies.

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