Excessive force claimed when 7 officers respond to vandalism call. Wrongful shooting death. $2 million. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Intoxicated man, unarmed, provokes police with broomsticks and rocks. Nonlethal-force options were deployed, but one officer ends up shooting him.

The Case

  • Case Name: Ramirez v. LAPD
  • Court and Case Number: U.S. District Court, Central District / CV 15-2179-MWF(FFMx)
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, March 29, 2017
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, January 16, 2015
  • Type of Action: Civil Rights, Excessive Force, Police Shooting, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Michael W. Fitzgerald
  • Plaintiffs:
    Maria Delores Ramirez as heir (mother) to decedent Luis Ramirez.
  • Defendants:
    Los Angeles Police Department
    Officer Joshue Towe
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $2,000,000
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 hours.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Cheong, Denove, Rowell & Bennett by John F. Denove and Shane V. Hapuarachy, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Office of the City Attorney by Christian R. Bojorquez, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Roger Clark, police procedures, Santee.

    Peter Francis, Ph.D., biomechanics, Poway.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Ed Flosi, M.S., law enforcement practices, Hollister.

    Richard Franklin Clark, Jr. M.D., toxicology, San Diego.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On Friday, July 25, 2014 at approximately 3:30 a.m., LAPD officers were deployed to a home located in Van Nuys, in response to a 911 call about vandalism. Two officers arrived and turned their spotlight on. When they got out of their vehicle Luis Ramirez, 38, threw rocks at them. They called for backup which means all available units in the area, a sergeant and a helicopter are to go to the scene. Five additional LAPD officers arrived on the scene. They found Luis Ramirez in the front yard of the residence, which was enclosed by a wrought-iron/mortar fence. Ramirez was visibly intoxicated. Ramirez was holding what appeared to be two broomsticks or poles in his hand. He continued to throw rocks at the officers.

    The officers ordered Ramirez to drop the sticks as well as the rocks in his hands. He responded by swearing at the officers. After a few attempts at telling Ramirez to drop the sticks, the officers decided to use a taser to immobilize Ramirez because he was non-compliant to their demands and stated they were concerned he would go to the back of the house or attempt to enter the house. One of the darts hit Ramirez and another did not. The officers then fired a beanbag shotgun, hitting Ramirez on his right side. There was a conflict in testimony as to what next occurred. All officers agreed that the poles were weapons that could cause serious bodily injury and that it appeared that Ramirez had raised the poles in an attempt to strike the officer who tased him. Some officers testified that after being struck with the beanbag Ramirez continued forward and attempted to strike officers. Some officers testified that after being struck with the beanbag Ramirez took a step forward with the poles raised. Other officers testified that Ramirez took a step backwards and did not again try to strike the officer. 

    Officer Towe fired two rounds from his 9mm. Another beanbag was fired and Officer Towe fired again. One of the bullets struck Ramirez in the upper right back and exited through his upper left chest. He dropped the poles, fell down and died at the scene.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Given the number of officers on the scene, the physical layout of the incident scene (Ramirez was inside the wrought-iron gate, while all seven officers were on the other side of the gate), the lack of any deadly weapons accessible to Ramirez, as well as the height and weight of the officers involved compared to Ramirez, the use of deadly force was unreasonable and excessive. The officers had available to them a number of nonlethal-force options, including pepper spray, batons and additional tasers.

    However, the one eye-witness who was not a police officer testified that once Ramirez was tased, he never took a step towards the officers, he never tried to swing the sticks at the officers, nor did he make any other aggressive movements.

    Plaintiff brought a claim for excessive force. Plaintiff sought wrongful death damages, recovery of funeral and burial expenses, Ramirez’s pain and suffering before he died and attorneys’ fees.     

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Based upon Ramirez's actions, demeanor, aggression and violence and his failure to comply, there was no other choice but with Officer Towe firing his weapon in order to stop that threat, which led to the unfortunate death of Mr. Ramirez.   

    Ramirez was warned multiple times to drop the rocks and the poles. He refused. He was a threat to flee and to enter the house. The officers attempted to use non-lethal force to stop Ramirez, first the taser and then the beanbags. Because of his intoxication, Ramirez felt less pain than he would otherwise feel and that is why pepper spray would not have been advisable and explains why he continued forward after being hit with the beanbag. 

    As to damages: that there wasn’t much of a relationship between Ramirez and the plaintiff, his mother. Ramirez had been in the United States for several years and his mother lives in Guatemala.                                          

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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