Crime & Justice

LA County considers $400K for family of unarmed man killed by sheriff’s deputies

Legal settlements at the LA sheriff's department rose significantly over the past five years.
Legal settlements at the LA sheriff's department rose significantly over the past five years.
L.A. County Sheriff

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday is expected to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of an unarmed man fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy in 2015.

The shooting occurred around when deputies tried to pull over a car that had been reported stolen in the South L.A. community of Walnut Park. The car sped away and crashed in an alleyway, according to the department.

The driver, Antonio Perez, 32, and a female passenger jumped out and ran. A short time later, a sheriff’s helicopter spotted Perez and deputies confronted him.

Deputy Eric Espinoza opened fire when, according to a statement from the department, "the suspect turned on the deputies with his hands in his waistband."

No gun was found.

In clearing Espinoza of criminal wrongdoing, a report by the L.A. County District Attorney noted a witness had told deputies she saw Perez pull a black handgun out of his waist during the foot chase.

"At that moment, Espinoza reasonably believed that Perez was reaching for a gun based upon previous information that Perez was armed with a gun, Perez’ extensive efforts to avoid arrest, Perez’ sudden turn to face Espinoza, and the fact that Perez reached his hands towards his waistband, a common area to conceal and carry a firearm," the report stated.

"Forced to make a split-second decision, Espinoza fired his duty weapon three times in fear for his life and his partner’s life," it said.

In their federal civil rights lawsuit, Espinoza’s mother and father claimed the force used was "excessive and objectively unreasonable under the circumstances," because Perez was unarmed and "did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury."

His parents also argued that deputies did not summon medical care in a timely fashion, causing Perez "extreme physical and emotional pain and suffering" as he lay dying on the ground.

The county has decided to settle the case rather than try it in court.

The cost of legal settlements stemming from the use of force and other actions by sheriff’s deputies has dramatically risen over the past few years. Six years ago, the county paid out $5.6 million in claims related to the sheriff’s department. Last year, it paid out $50.9 million for jail beatings by deputies, negligence related to shootings and one incident in which a deputy raped a woman during a traffic stop.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who took office in Dec. 2014, has pledged to reduce the department’s legal liability. Many of the payouts are from incidents years in the past, so any progress in curbing them likely would be seen later.