Two sheriff’s deputies sued in the 2013 shooting death of a bicyclist in South Los Angeles must provide photographs of their tattoos to the plaintiffs’ attorneys and give additional deposition testimony, a judge ruled Thursday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Doyle overruled objections by lawyers for Los Angeles County and Deputies Jason Zabala and Oscar Barrios that the tattoos are irrelevant and do not resemble those worn by deputies associated with LASD cliques alleged to look favorably upon the unjustified use of force.
Terry Laffitte, a 49-year-old black man, was shot in the back of the head by Zabala and in the right leg by Barrios about 9:10 p.m. on May 18, 2013, according to the lawsuit.
Laffitte’s widow, Rodonna Laffitte, and other family members sued Los Angeles County six months after the shooting, which took place in the back yard of his home on Miramonte Boulevard.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys allege in their court papers that some gangs or cliques of deputies encourage the use of excessive force. The groups go by such names as Vikings, Banditos and Rattlesnakes, and members identify themselves through their tattoos, the plaintiffs’ attorneys say in their court papers.
During previous deposition testimony, Zabala said he had five tattoos, including one of a grinning skull on one ankle and a depiction of St. Michael wielding a sword on his right leg, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys’ court papers.
Barrios testified that he had 10 tattoos that included the head of a Native American chief as well as angel wings and the initials and badge number of a dead deputy on his left leg, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers court papers.
Defense attorneys previously sought to bar any questions about the tattoos, citing the deputies’ privacy, but Judge Stephen Moloney ruled that the deputies would have to answer the questions.
One of the family’s lawyers, Yana Henriks, said after Thursday’s hearing that the deputies’ testimony and their tattoos are important to her clients’ case.
“I have an obligation to investigate fully and I’m going to do that,” Henriks said.
Deputies said after the shooting that they had seen Laffitte riding a bicycle without headlights or tail lights and that he appeared drunk, ignored their commands to stop and drove to the back of his home.
They said Laffitte punched one of the deputies and both he and the deputy fell to the ground. While the two struggled, Laffitte’s family rushed out and joined in, punching and yelling. Laffitte then pulled out a gun, prompting deputies to draw their guns and fire, according to their account.
But in their court papers, the plaintiffs’ attorneys deny Laffitte was armed and allege “the empty weapon was planted by the Sheriff’s Department personnel. History will show that this would not be the first time evidence has found to have been planted by deputies.”
— City News Service
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