The family of an aspiring television producer who was mistakenly shot and killed by deputies sent to a West Hollywood apartment building to investigate an assault report filed a lawsuit today against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“This comes down to a case of excessive force from the LASD — a case that resulted in the most appalling situation imaginable,” said Sim Osborn, attorney for the family of John Winkler. “We believe this suit will help bring restitution to John’s family as they reel from this tragic loss, and will effect change to prevent future instances of excessive force.”
County officials could not be reached late today for comment on the lawsuit. The family in April filed a $25 million claim against the county that was rejected.
The 30-year-old Winkler had recently completed his education at the Seattle Film Institute. He had moved to Los Angeles six months earlier from Washington state and had recently been hired as a production assistant on the Comedy Central series “Tosh.0,” his family said.
Winkler was killed April 7 outside an apartment at 939 Palm Ave.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, deputies went to the apartment in response to a report about an agitated man with a knife. He was described as thin and white, dressed in a black shirt.
Eventually, a door to the apartment opened and a man rushed out covered in blood and bleeding from the neck, sheriff’s Lt. David Coleman said in April.
“Simultaneously, victim Winkler ran out the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim. Both ran directly at the deputies,” he said.
“Winkler was similar to the description of the suspect and was wearing a black shirt. Believing Winkler was the assailant and the assault was ongoing and he would attack the entry team, three deputies fired their duty weapons at him.”
Both men were shot. Winkler died, but the second man, Liam Mulligan, survived. The actual knife-wielding suspect was later arrested inside the apartment. He was later identified as Alexander Tor McDonald, who is awaiting trial on murder and other charges.
Winkler’s family contends that he was visiting a friend at the apartment when McDonald began stabbing one of the other men. They said Winkler and the second man were shot while trying to escape.
“My son was helping a wounded friend escape a dangerous situation, but the greater threat was just outside the door in LASD uniform,” said Lisa Ostergren, Winkler’s mother. “This can’t continue. Law enforcement must change the way they approach hostage situations so tragedies like this don’t happen again. We are heartbroken, but determined that John’s story will shed light to stop unnecessary violence.”
Osborn said sheriff’s deputies at the scene had been given an photo of McDonald, who bore no resemblance to Winkler.
“It’s inexplicable — despite receiving a photo of the alleged assailant only moments prior, deputies inconceivably opened fire on two men
escaping the scene who looked nothing like McDonald,” Osborn said.
The deputies — Michael Fairbanks, Gerardo Valdivia and Byron Holloway — were put on paid leave for two weeks after the shooting and underwent counseling and training that the department requires in such situations before being put back on the job in West Hollywood.