A jury Wednesday rejected the wrongful death claims of two sons of a man fatally shot by a Los Angeles Police Department officer after a pursuit through Boyle Heights in 2016.
Though the Los Angeles Superior Court jury had to start deliberations anew in mid-afternoon after a regular panel member was replaced with an alternate, the group reached is decision about two hours later in the civil case stemming from the shooting of 36-year-old Omar Gonzalez by Officer Eden Medina.
In his final argument Tuesday, attorney Kent Henderson, on behalf of 18-year-old Omar Gonzalez Jr. and his 15-year-old brother, recommended that each plaintiff be awarded $8 million. He said Gonzalez should not have been shot in the back twice because he was no imminent threat to Medina or his partner.
But Assistant City Attorney Cory Brente argued that Medina’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances and no excessive force was used.
Gonzalez’s sons were both minors when the wrongful death suit was brought on their behalf in May 2017.
One juror told attorneys outside the courtroom that she did not believe there was enough evidence presented to prove Medina used excessive force. Another panel member said she did not feel she received an adequate definition as to when such force is unlawful.
The shooting in the 1200 block of Atwood Place occurred about 7:45 p.m. on July 28, 2016, after a vehicle chase in which Medina was driving a second patrol car behind the main police vehicle leading the pursuit, Medina said.
The chase began after Gang Enforcement Detail officers from the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station attempted to stop a possibly stolen Nissan Altima east of downtown Los Angeles, Medina testified. He said Gonzalez was a passenger in the car and reached down several times, leading the officer to believe the man was either obtaining a weapon or hiding one.
Medina said the officers gave chase and the Nissan driver stopped at the end of a cul-de-sac on Atwood Street, at which time Gonzalez got out and ran up the hilly driveway of a home. Residents attempted to stop Gonzalez when officers arrived and tried to take him into custody, Medina said.
Medina said he was fighting with Gonzalez when he saw the man holding a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun by the slide on the top. He said he yelled “gun” four times to warn his partner and other officers on the scene.
Gonzalez dropped the gun into a gutter, but then picked it up, according to Medina.
Medina acknowledged that when he fired the shots, he did not know if Gonzalez was pointing the gun at him or his partner.
“At the time I fired the shots, I was unsure how he was holding the firearm,” Medina said.
Medina said he had a stun gun on the left side of his belt and a bean bag weapon was in the trunk of the patrol car, but he believed his ultimate decision to use deadly force was the only way to ensure he or his partner were not killed or subjected to great bodily injury.
Medina was involved in another shooting in Boyle Heights less than two weeks after shooting Gonzalez. In March 2018, the District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Medina for the shooting of 14-year-old Jesse Romero on Aug. 9, 2016. Prosecutors said the boy fired a shot at Medina, but witnesses told police the teen threw the gun on the ground, causing it to discharge.
A federal court jury also rejected that family’s claims, but the case is on appeal.
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