The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved an appeal of a $3.4 million judgment in a federal lawsuit involving a fatal deputy-involved shooting of a 39-year-old man with a criminal record accused of driving into a sheriff’s patrol car in Yorba Linda.
After a federal jury found in favor of Kathy Craig and Gary Witt in their 2017 excessive force lawsuit against the county regarding the fatal shooting of Brandon Lee Witt, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney awarded the parents $3.4 million and $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees.
The board voted 4-0, with Supervisor Andrew Do absent, to file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office in October 2016 found there was no criminal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Witt.
Prosecutors said a deputy found Witt in a “suspicious” Toyota Avalon outside an Extended Stay America at 22711 Oakcrest Circle in Yorba Linda on the afternoon of Feb. 15, 2016.
When the deputy ordered Witt to turn off the car, the suspect grabbed a “metal file-like device” and said he did not have a key, prosecutors said.
The two began verbally sparring as the deputy questioned Witt and the suspect questioning whether the deputy was a law enforcement officer and requesting to speak to his supervisor, prosecutors said. The deputy ordered Witt to get out of the car, but he refused, prompting the deputy to call for backup.
At gunpoint, the deputy grabbed Witt’s wrists and the car was put into drive, prosecutors said. Witt said he “was sorry and that he was scared,” prosecutors said.
The deputy said he warned Witt he would shoot him if he put the car in drive again and to keep his hands outside of the vehicle’s window, prosecutors said.
The deputy put his gun back in its holster and attempted to get Witt out of the car while a backup deputy arrived, prosecutors said. Witt was accused of putting the car in reverse and slamming it into one of the deputies’ cars, prosecutors said.
The deputies ordered Witt to put the car in park, prompting Witt to reply he had been assaulted and shot before and that he was trying to put the car in park, prosecutors said. When Witt shifted the car back into drive it vaulted forward with the deputy’s arm still in it, prompting a warning to shoot the suspect, who said, “No, please don’t,” according to prosecutors.
The car bumped the other deputy, prompting his partner to open fire, prosecutors said.
The car ended up in a drainage ditch with the wheels continuing to spin with the accelerator pressed down, prosecutors said.
Deputies found counterfeit money in the car, prosecutors said.
Witt had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system. He had a criminal history dating back to 1996 that included burglary, grand theft, fraud, domestic violence and possession of drugs, according to prosecutors.
The lawsuit, however, alleged that Witt was “lawfully sitting inside his vehicle” when he was shot. The lawsuit alleged the deputies yanked Witt from the car and punched and kicked him after the shooting.
Witt’s and Craig’s attorney, Dale Galipo, was not immediately available for comment.
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