The California Supreme Court Monday upheld an $8 million verdict awarded to the five children of a 29-year-old Black man who the plaintiffs alleged was beaten and killed by a knee-on-neck maneuver by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in Compton in 2012.
“Today the court has confirmed the critical principle that when an officer commits an intentional battery and uses excessive force to kill someone, he cannot try to offload responsibility for his illegal conduct by pointing at the negligent actions of his victim,” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Seplow said.
The excessive force and negligence case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in April 2013 against the county and seven individual deputies who encountered Daren Dwaine Burley during a service call.
Defense attorneys maintained Burley was under the influence of drugs and resisting arrest. However, witnesses to the Aug. 12, 2012, encounter testified and demonstrated in court that while Burley lay on the ground unresponsive, multiple deputies mounted his back and one of them used a knee on the back of his neck, preventing him from breathing, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The coroner’s autopsy report indicated that suffocation of the brain and police restraint maneuvers were factors in Burley’s death, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
At trial, the jury found that the deputy acted intentionally when causing Burley’s death and according to existing law, the deputy’s intentional acts would make him and the county 100% responsible for paying the verdict, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
However, defense attorneys successfully argued in the 2nd District Court of Appeal that the children’s verdict should be reduced because Burley’s actions leading up to his death were negligent, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court, according to Seplow.
The high court was asked to decide whether Burley’s mistakes leading up to his death would reduce the verdict awarded to his children. The court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Ming Chin and a concurring opinion penned by Justice Goodwin Liu, found that the verdict should stand, finding that the negligence of a victim of police battery does not reduce the responsibility of the law enforcement officer.
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