Crime & Justice

$2.7 million settlement in traffic stop killing by LA Sheriff’s deputy

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday is expected to approve the payment of $2.7 million to the family of a man killed by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop two years ago. 

The payment would settle a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Miguel Hernandez, who died after being shot by Deputy Nathan Gillespie.

Sheriff’s officials said Gillespie pulled over the 39-year-old Hernandez in Santa Clarita in Jan. 2016 because his car matched the description of one involved in a road rage shooting the day before. Hernandez almost immediately jumped out and yelled profanities at the deputy – his right hand concealed, according to the department.

"Hernandez appeared agitated and said something to the effect of, 'what the f---?'" according to a report from L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who relied heavily on the sheriff’s investigation. Hernandez was wearing baggy clothing and had what appeared to be gang tattoos on his shaved head, the report said.

"Hernandez' appearance, demeanor and actions, as well as the vehicle he was driving, caused Gillespie to believe that Hernandez was the suspect from the shooting the day before," it said.

The deputy said the father of three "twisted his body and made a sudden jerking motion," the report said. Fearing that Hernandez was reaching for a gun, Gillespie fired one shot that hit Hernandez in the shoulder and went into his lungs.

A knife was recovered near Hernandez' body, although it's unclear if it was his and whether it was in his hand.

In its lawsuit, Hernandez' family described his actions as "exercising his First Amendment right to question the legality of police conduct." It said he was trying to comply with the deputy’s order to get back into his car.

"Decedent had nothing in his hands and was not belligerent," the lawsuit said. "He was a safe distance from Deputy Gillespie, and Deputy Gillespie had cover available."

That’s one point on which both the family and sheriff’s department agree – that Gillespie should have taken cover.

In a memo to the Board of Supervisors, sheriff’s officials acknowledged Gillespie’s actions contributed to the confrontation. The deputy failed to call for backup or take time to assess the situation, and instead "put himself in danger when he approached the vehicle."

The lawsuit also claimed Gillespie failed to administer medical aid to Hernandez in a timely fashion.

"He placed his body weight on decedent rather than first aid, and did not summon medical promptly," the lawsuit said. Sheriff’s officials said the deputy was trying to secure Hernandez as he was trying to see whether there was anyone else in the car.

It was never determined whether Hernandez was involved in the shooting that prompted Gillespie to pull him over.

The district attorney’s office, which reviews all officer-involved shootings in L.A. County, said Gillespie acted lawfully and in self-defense.