The family of John Winkler, who was shot and killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy on April 7 as he fled at attacker at 939 Palm Ave., has announced that it is filing a $25 million claim against the department.
The announcement was made at a news conference today in Seattle. Winkler, 30, had recently moved from there to West Hollywood and taken a job as a production assistant at Comedy Central’s “Tosh.O.”
“I don’t think there is any burden greater for a parent to bear than burying their child, and John’s parents also have to endure the knowledge that his death was eminently avoidable had the sheriff’s deputies exercised any degree of prudency before opening fire,” said Sim Osborn, the attorney representing Winkler’s family. “We hope that the legal filing will help us understand how the deputies could have shot two innocent young men, mistaking them both for the assailant, tragic decisions leading to tragic outcomes.”
Sheriff’s deputies were called to the apartment building when a resident reported strange behavior by Alexander McDonald, a resident. When they opened the apartment door, Liam Mulligan, who had been knifed, rushed out, followed by Winkler. The deputies, having been told that there were only two men in the apartment, believed that Winkler was the assailant and shot and killed him. Mulligan was wounded in the leg by a gunshot.
Inside, the deputies discovered McDonald choking and tearing at the face of another young man and a knife on the floor nearby. McDonald, 27, has been arrested on charges of murder, attempted murder and torture and is being held on $4 million bail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles.
The four men, who were friends, were visiting one another when McDonald allegedly attempted to take them hostage and began stabbing them.
Winkler’s mother, Lisa Ostergren, was at the news conference . “Words simply cannot convey how devastated we are over John’s death,” she said. “He was the sort of bright spirit that touched everyone he met, and the senselessness of his death makes it even more tragic.”
“We spent a lot of time discussing whether we should file this action, but at the end of the day, my family is owed truth and accountability,” Ostergren said. “I am filing this not as John’s mother, but as every mother, hoping to protect them from enduring what we are going through.”
The LA Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has said deputies believed Winkler was the assailant because he was thin and
wearing a black shirt, which is how McDonald had been described. But Sim Osborne, the lawyer filing the claim, questioned the “mistaken identity” explanation. “We have many questions for the LASD, including how they could have confused McDonald for John – two very different looking men – when witnesses had given them a photo just moments earlier,” he said.
“Unfortunately, victims like John and his family have little leverage or power to seek truth or to demand accountability through means other than legal action,” Osborn said. “Lisa and her family deserve to know how and why the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department failed so horribly that it cost John his life.”
Under state law, a plaintiff must first submit a claim, which includes a damage amount. If Los Angeles County does not settle the case and it goes to trial, a jury would determine the amount of any monetary award. The incident is still being investigated by the Sheriff’s Department and the deputies are now back at work.
The shooting sparked a rally by local residents outside the apartment building on April 13 at which they mourned Winkler’s death and that of Kurtland Ma, a young man apparently killed by his boyfriend, in a separate incident at the same building. The residents then marched to the West Hollywood station of the Sheriff’s Department to protest its handling of the incident.
Friends of Winkler are staging an event at the Hollywood Improv at 10 p.m. on Thursday as a memorial to him and his passion for comedy. The event is called “Laughing for Winkler.” Tickets are available online, with proceeds donated to the Boys and Girls Club of America.