In an interview Sunday with WEHOville, a woman who lived across the hall from the apartment at 939 Palm Ave., where in 2014 sheriff’s deputies shot and killed one innocent man and wounded another, offered a chilling account of the incident that contradicts key testimony by the deputies. Catherine Novis reached out to WEHOville to object to statements by the deputies that they had not seen photos that she said she had provided to help the deputies distinguish the alleged attacker from his victims.
Novis’s allegations raise issues that might have been addressed in a “corrective action plan” that federal District Court Judge Dolly Gee demanded that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department produce as part of a settlement in which Los Angeles County has paid a total of $7.5 million to the family of John Winkler, who was killed, and to Liam Mulligan, who was wounded by the deputies. The Sheriff’s Department last week released the corrective action plan after numerous requests from WEHOville. However it redacted all information that might have explained what action, if any, it actually took to ensure that such an incident doesn’t recur in West Hollywood. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department said the redaction was ordered by a county attorney.
The department has not furnished a copy of the plan to Capt. Holly Perez, who took over leadership of the WeHo Sheriff’s Station earlier this year, well after the 939 Palm incident, or to city officials or members of the city council. While WEHOville has written several times about the corrective action plan requirement, apparently no city official and no member of the West Hollywood City Council has requested a copy of it. Several City Council members immediately defended the Sheriff’s deputies just after the shooting occurred. However over the past year there has been an effort to evaluate the local station’s management, and former Capt. Gary Honings, with some pressure from City Hall, took an early retirement to be replaced in February by Capt. Perez, who has focused on community engagement.
An investigation by the District Attorney’s office noted Novis’ testimony but accepted the declarations of the three deputies that they had not seen the photos in its decision not to prosecute them. The D.A.’s office said “California law 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.” Standards for conviction are lower in civil cases, which apparently is why the L.A. County Board of Supervisors decided to make the $7.5 million payout
The deputies involved in the shooting, Gerardo Valdivia, Michael Fairbanks and Bryon Holloway, are still on duty in West Hollywood. Because of the Sheriff’s Department’s refusal to reveal the corrective action plan it is unclear whether they were disciplined or given special training to reduce chances that an incident like that at 939 Palm will happen again.
On April 6, 2014, the day of the shooting, Catherine Novis had been texting Liam Mulligan, who shared Apartment 201 across the hall with a young woman and with Alexander McDonald, who Novis had dated at one time. Then, in the evening, Novis settled down to watch television in her living room. Suddenly she heard a helicopter and loud sirens outside her apartment.
Novis said she went to the main balcony, which is between her apartment and an adjacent apartment, where she stood with a neighbor and saw squad cars from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station arriving. Novis then stepped into the hall outside her apartment and knocked on Mulligan’s door. “I knocked on the door and said ‘Liam what’s going on? Get out here’,” she said. “I turned around, and all of a sudden my roommate says ‘Stop. That’s my roommate. What are you doing?'”
Then, Novis said, “I turned around and screamed and fell to my knees. I had a bunch of guns in my face, with the white lasers and their fingers on the trigger. I thought that I was dead … I don’t know that you’ve ever experienced that, but you think that you’re done. You think that the cops are supposed to be careful.”
Novis said deputies then “came into my apartment to use the bathroom, and one of the deputies said ‘You were on the balcony, and you have to be careful. We almost shot you’.”
“I’m a very tiny girl, I weigh like a hundred pounds,” said Novis, who was 28 at the time and noted that the suspect actually was a man, not a woman. “If they had shot me, I would have been dead in an instant. I wouldn’t have survived.” Novis said she was facing at least four guns, one of them a “bean bag” gun, and the others shotguns or rifles. “It feels like you are dead,” Novis said of the incident. “You spend the rest of the night feeling like you’re dead.”
“It was probably the worst night of my life. It definitely changed my life for the worst. I still get flashbacks. I have done therapy every single week since that day.”
Novis said she showed Deputy Fairbanks a photo on her mobile phone of Mulligan and Chris Moretti, a friend of Mulligan’s who McDonald allegedly was attacking inside the apartment, and also a photo of McDonald himself. She said Fairbanks looked at the picture of McDonald and said: “That’s our guy.” He then passed the phone to the other deputies.
“They lied,” Novis said, referring to the deputies’ denial to investigators that they had seen the photos of McDonald and Mulligan that she showed them. “It’s just gross.” Novis noted that the three men looked very different. In addition to their very distinct faces, Winkler, then 30, was a well-built man with strawberry blonde hair. Mulligan, an Australian, had a large build. McDonald was thin with an upswept hairstyle.
Novis, a ten-year resident of West Hollywood, moved soon after the shooting but still lives in WeHo. Now, she said, she is afraid of sheriff’s deputies.” I’m honestly scared to get pulled over by them,” she said. Novis said she and at least one other tenant have videos of parts of the situation but she has been advised by her lawyer not to release it until McDonald stands trial. He is charged with murder, among other charges, apparently because his actions provoked the police response that led to Winkler’s killing.
Novis questioned why the immediate response at 939 Palm was so violent. “You’re in someone’s home,” she said of the deputies who entered the apartment building. “You know that multiple people live there.” Novis said that not long after the incident she was eating at IHOP and “saw the guy that shot them and had this sickening feeling. They get to wake up in the morning and go to work. John Winkler doesn’t.”
Novis isn’t the only person who has objected to the deputies’ handling of the situation. Larry Block, a local activist and owner of The Block Party clothing store, has complained that one of his employees, who lived at 939 Palm, was handled roughly by deputies when he tried to enter the building. Another resident complained that he was handcuffed until someone said he was not the suspected attacker.