A longtime girlfriend of a man fatally shot while sheriff’s deputies were investigating a domestic violence call in Lancaster in 2020 is asking a judge to allow her to file a lawsuit for her emotional distress from witnessing the incident despite having brought a legal claim for damages six months late.
Kimberly Smith, who was in a 22-year relationship with the late Michael Thomas, filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court petition on Thursday, arguing she should be legally excused from not having met the statute of limitations when she filed her claim in June of this year instead of meeting the deadline of last December.
A claim is a required forerunner of a lawsuit and must be brought within six months of the incident. The County Counsel’s Office rejected the woman’s claim because of the late filing.
On June 11, 2020, Smith accidentally dialed 911 and did not say anything to the operator who answered, her court papers state. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrived at the couple’s home on West Avenue H12 about 5:50 a.m. and requested to come inside, but the 62-year-old Thomas said the 911 call was a mistake and told them they could not enter without a warrant, the petition states.
The deputies eventually broke through the door, and during an ensuing scuffle, Thomas was shot by one deputy while two others were restraining him, according to the petition. The same deputy who shot Thomas pointed a gun at Smith and told her to back away, the petition alleges.
Thomas later died at a hospital. Smith suffered emotional distress as a result of witnessing both the shooting of Thomas as well as the gun being pointed at her, the petition states.
Smith did not present her claim within the required time for several reasons, her petition states.
First, the LASD initially refused to release the name of the deputies and she had no alternative means to find their identifications, according to her petition. She also was grieving over Thomas’ death and there were many days when she could not perform such basic tasks as eating and sleeping, her petition states.
Smith also is permanently disabled, lacked funds to hire a lawyer and could not get assistance in filing a claim from the county because many buildings were closed during the coronavirus, the petition states.
In her proposed lawsuit, a copy of which is attached to her court papers, Smith says she hopes to sue the county, the LASD and four deputies for civil rights violations, unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force, assault, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Thomas’ brother, James Thomas, who also witnessed the shooting, previously filed a separate suit against the county that is still awaiting trial.
In their version of events, the LASD said previously that Smith called 911 to report a domestic violence incident, but never spoke to the operator. She left the phone line open and several minutes of arguing and fighting between the caller and the suspect could be heard in the background, the department said.
The suspect’s girlfriend later gave a recorded statement to deputies in which she confirmed she had placed the 911 call and had been assaulted by the suspect, the LASD said.
“When deputies arrived, they made contact with the suspect inside the location and attempted to detain him for a domestic violence investigation,” a sheriff’s department statement said. “The suspect refused to comply with the (deputies’) orders, and an altercation between the deputies and the suspect ensued. During the altercation, the suspect reached down and attempted to gain control of one of the deputy’s firearm.”
The deputy-involved shooting then occurred, the statement read.
No deputies were injured.