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Crime & Justice

Juror questioning creates conflict in Palmdale teen shooting civil case

Juror seats in a courtroom
Juror seats in a courtroom
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A small twist has coiled in a lawsuit against the L.A. Sheriff’s deputy who shot a teenager three years ago in Palmdale.

On Tuesday, a jury voted to award $1.1 million to William Fetters, 19, who was shot in 2009 by L.A. Sheriff’s deputy Scott Sorrow in Palmdale. Fetters was holding a toy gun.

A juror reported to L.A. Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige on Wednesday that he’d been approached after the trial by a Sheriff’s investigator who wanted to discuss the case verdict.

It’s not illegal for an attorney to talk to the jurors after a case has ended. A juror can choose to talk about the case or decline. But Hiroshige said a juror could feel intimidated or infer that he or she is obliged to talk when approached by a law enforcement officer.

“There is an intimidating factor of anyone identifying themselves as a sheriff’s investigator to talk to them about the case,” he said.

Attorney Nicole Davis, who defended the sheriff's department in the case, told the judge the man who approached the juror was a private investigator hired by her law firm. She said the private investigator did not claim to be a sheriff's deputy and suggested that the juror could have been mistaken.

Hiroshige spelled out specific language that both sides must use when asking jurors to talk about the case with them.

The jury was not able to come to a verdict on whether Sorrow shot Fetters with malice, so the judge declared a mistrial on that part of the case. Fetter’s attorney said he would retry that portion of the case.