L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. Pays $2M for Shooting Man in the Back
Parents of a man whom a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy shot dead as he ran away won a $2 million jury award.
Efrain Lara Gutierrez encountered the deputies around 1 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2009 when they saw Gutierrez and another man near cars. The deputies said they suspected the men of breaking into cars and that Gutierrez was armed with a knife. The deputies claimed they chased the two men, until Gutierrez reached a fence where he was only a few feet away when he turned toward them and threatened them with the knife.
Deputy David Salazar shot Gutierrez five times.
Sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the deputies did what they had to. “Deadly force is used when deputies’ lives are in danger or the public,” he said. But an autopsy on Gutierrez contradicted the deputies’ story.
“He was shot in the back,” said Dale Galipo, who represented Gutierrez’ parents, Mara Eva and Dionico Lara. “But just as importantly, we were able to show to jurors the deputy wasn’t near him. The blood trail is 26 feet long. He was running away, not toward, the deputy when he was shot.”
Galipo also said Gutierrez’ fingerprints were not found on the knife.
A jury of four men and four women rejected the deputies’ argument that they feared for their lives, finding that they used excessive force against Gutierrez and awarding $2 million to his parents.
The department plans to challenge the verdict and may appeal if necessary, according to Whitmore.