Crime & Justice

Sheriff's department shooting expected to cost LA County $7.5 million

Here are some issues to think about as seven candidates contend for Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Here are some issues to think about as seven candidates contend for Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Photo by C. Holmes via Flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected on Tuesday to agree to pay $2.5 million to a man accidentally shot by sheriff’s deputies in West Hollywood two years ago—adding to the $5 million the county paid to the family of a man killed in the same incident.

The shooting occurred in April 2014 at an apartment in the 900 block of Palm Avenue where Liam Mulligan and two friends were watching the NBA Finals when Mulligan's roommate, Alexander McDonald, who had been acting strangely, pulled a knife on them, according to Mulligan. McDonald stabbed Mulligan in the neck, Mulligan said.

While this was happening, sheriff’s deputies were gathering outside the apartment in response to reports of a man with a knife. When Mulligan and his friend, John Winkler, burst out the door of the apartment in an attempt to escape McDonald, deputies opened fire. 

Mulligan, who was already bleeding heavily from the neck, was shot in the leg. Winkler, 30, was shot and killed. The deputies said they wrongly believed Winkler was the suspect and Mulligan his hostage.

After entering the apartment, deputies found McDonald holding down and choking another victim as a knife lay nearby. Police subdued and arrested McDonald.

Deputies said informants had told them that two males were inside the apartment and that the suspect was a thin, white male wearing a black shirt, according to a sheriff’s department statement at the time. Deputies said they believed Winkler was the suspect because they thought he matched the description of the attacker.

Winkler's family issued a statement after the shooting disputing that claim.

“To even the most jaded bystander, it is clear that the sheriff’s deputy who mistakenly shot and killed my son was either horribly trained, or simply ignored the established procedures,” said Lisa Ostegren, Winkler’s mother.

Then-interim Sheriff John Scott called the shooting an accident and "a police officer's greatest nightmare."

As part of the settlement, the sheriff’s department agreed to develop a plan to prevent such shootings in the future—but it has declined to make that plan public.

McDonald was charged with murder under California’s felony murder rule. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.