Crime & Justice

LA supervisors to vote on $1.5M settlement of suit over deputy's fatal shooting of driver

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve on Tuesday a $1.5 million payment to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a man fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy in Cerritos last year.

It’s the latest settlement involving a deputy shooting at a moving car, which generally is against department policy.

The incident began as deputies were investigating reports "regarding a suspicious female knocking on a resident’s door asking for someone who did not live at the location," according to a report by the LA District Attorney. A common tactic of burglars is to knock on the front door to determine if anyone is home and to provide an excuse why they were there if someone answered.

The woman was reported to have been last seen getting out of a gray Chevrolet Impala, according to the report.

Deputy Edward Fitzgerald was first to arrive. He noticed a parked Impala and saw the occupant, Nephi Arreguin, apparently asleep in the driver’s seat. He pounded on the hood to wake him up and yelled "Let me see your hand," according to Fitzgerald.

"Arreguin ignored the order and moved his hands toward his waist. Fitzgerald feared that Arreguin was reaching for a weapon and requested additional units," the report states.

Here’s what happened next, according to the report: "Fitzgerald immediately took one to two steps to his right (south) and away from the driver’s wheel giving Arreguin enough room to pass him. Instead, Arreguin turned the Impala to the left and accelerated toward Fitzgerald, striking him on the left side of the body. The impact caused Fitzgerald to lose his footing and lean onto the hood of the Impala. Fitzgerald believed that Arreguin was attempting to crush him between the Impala and his patrol car. In fear for his life, Fitzgerald fired two rounds from his service weapon into the windshield."

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.

"I’m not justifying the previous behavior of the victim," said attorney Milton Grimes, who represents Arreguin’s mother and two-year-old son. "But law enforcement have a duty and responsibility to use certain approaches in certain situations."

The sheriff’s department prohibits deputies from shooting at a driver unless the car is headed directly at them and there’s no time to get out of the way, or if the driver’s armed.

Arreguin was unarmed.

In settling the suit, the county is not admitting wrongdoing.