The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department will not disclose what it has done to comply with a court order that it take steps to ensure that an incident like the killing of a young man by Sheriff’s deputies and the injury of another at 939 Palm Ave. in April 2014 does not recur.
U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee in April 2015 ordered the Sheriff’s Department to produce a “corrective action plan” as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought against the department by Lisa Ostegren and Mark Winkler. Ostegren and Winkler are the parents of John Winkler, then 30, who was shot dead by deputies as he tried to escape a knife attack in an apartment at 939 Palm. A friend, Liam Mulligan, was shot in the leg by deputies as he also fled the apartment.
The three officers involved in the shooting, Gerardo Valdivia, Michael Fairbanks and Bryon Holloway, did not face criminal charges. Those deputies were standing outside the door of the apartment where Alexander McDonald, one of the tenants, allegedly was stabbing Mulligan. McDonald has been charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of torture in the incident. They told investigators that they thought only two men were in the apartment. When the door suddenly swung open, Mulligan rushed out, bleeding from the neck, followed by Winkler, who the deputies said they shot because they thought he was the attacker. The deputies contradicted a statement by two women who lived down the hall from the apartment who said they had shown deputies a picture of McDonald to help them identify the assailant. The deputies said they hadn’t seen such a photo.
In deciding not to prosecute the deputies, the district attorney cited California law, which “permits the use of deadly force in self-defense or in the defense of others if it reasonably appears to the person claiming the right of self-defense or the defense of others that he actually and reasonably believed that he or others were in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death.”
The “imminent danger” defense has become controversial in this video age with the taping of numerous officer-involved shootings across the United States where the officer was not prosecuted for that reason but appeared to viewers not to have a reason for shooting. The defense is based on a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor, in which the court ruled that officers may use force so long as it is “objectively reasonable.” The court said that that was to be determined by “a reasonable officer on the scene.” One police organization, the Police Executive Research Forum, has published a position paper contesting the Graham v. Connor ruling. ” “Departments should adopt policies that hold themselves to a higher standard than the legal requirements of Graham v. Connor,” the paper says.
The City of West Hollywood issued a statement lamenting the shooting shortly after it occurred. However city council members quickly declared their support for the Sheriff’s deputies. While such shootings have sparked outrage and action by other local governments, to date West Hollywood has experienced only a brief demonstration in April shortly after the shooting occurred. City council members contacted by WEHOville were unaware of the corrective action plan.
WEHOville has requested a copy of the corrective action plan several times over the past year. The Sheriff’s Department had declined to release it, citing legal proceedings. It finally released it this week now that the Mulligan settlement has been made. But the actual “corrective action” was redacted. Laurie Douglas of the Sheriff’s Department’s Discovery Unit told WEHOville today that the redaction was a decision by county attorneys. The plan submitted to WEHOville states that the corrective action plan addressed only the deputies involved and not to “department-wide system issues”