Family members of a 28-year-old Ethiopian civil engineer shot and killed by deputies in 2017 in South Los Angeles have reached a tentative settlement in their lawsuit against Los Angeles County.
Lawyers in the case told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Beaudet on July 8 that the accord is subject to approval by the county Claims Board and the Board of Supervisors. No terms were divulged and the judge dismissed the case.
The suit was filed in April 2018, alleging wrongful death, negligence, battery and civil rights violations.
The plaintiffs are Zelalem Ewnetu’s mother, Abebech Tsegaye Mamo; his brother, Sewunet Ewnetu; his sister, Alemshet Tsegaye: and his aunt, Seble Zeleke. They maintained that Ewnetu posed no threat to the deputies and that using deadly force was “unnecessary and unlawful.” The suit further alleged that the deputies were not properly trained and that the department hired and retained deputies “with a known propensity for violence.”
Ewnetu’s relatives have suffered a loss of his love and affection and incurred burial and funeral expenses, the suit stated.
Sheriff’s officials previously said deputies were responding to a vehicle burglary call about 1:15 a.m. on April 12, 2017, in the area of 91st Street and Compton Avenue when they saw a car with the trunk open.
Deputies inspecting the car saw another vehicle with its brake lights on parked in a nearby alley. Believing that the second car might be connected to the burglary, they approached and smelled marijuana, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The deputies said Ewnetu refused their request to come out of the vehicle. As one of the deputies held the man’s arm to escort him out of the vehicle, he pulled away, reached for a handgun and pointed it at deputies, who responded by firing at the man, according to the LASD.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The three deputies involved in the incident — Shane Lattuca, Timothy Hauser and Timothy Gannon — gave sworn statements regarding the shooting.
Lattuca said that Ewnetu appeared at one point to be preparing to drive away, so the deputy reached inside the car and took the keys from the ignition.
He said Ewnetu soon reached into the back seat.
“Believing Mr. Ewnetu was reaching for a gun, I immediately unholstered my firearm and ordered Mr. Ewnetu to show me his hands,” Lattuca said. “Mr. Ewnetu then turned his torso back to the left with a gun in his right hand.”
Lattuca said he fired a shot at Ewnetu’s upper body because he feared for his safety and that of Gannon. Ewnetu then got out of the car and pointed the weapon at Gannon, according to Lattuca.
“Believing Mr. Ewnetu was going to shoot Deputy Gannon, I shot at Mr. Ewnetu’s center mass through Mr. Ewnetu’s car,” Lattuca said.
Lattuca said he did not aim at Ewnetu’s head because he feared he could miss and the bullet could strike a nearby apartment building.
Ewnetu fell face-first to the ground and dropped his gun, according to Lattuca.
Gannon says in his declaration that he ran to the back of Ewnetu’s car after Lattuca yelled that Ewnetu had a gun.
“When I got to the rear of Mr. Ewnetu’s car, and in fear of my and my partner’s lives, I fired two rounds through the back window toward the driver’s seat,” Gannon said.
Ewnetu fell to the ground with his hands under his body and his weapon fell inches away, according to Gannon.
“Since the gun was within reach of Mr. Ewnetu, I told Deputy Lattuca not to shoot and I walked up and kicked the gun away from Mr. Ewnetu,” Gannon said.
Hauser said he fired “stun-bag rounds” at Ewnetu that had no effect.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office issued a report on the shooting in September 2017, finding that the two deputies involved in the shooting acted reasonably in self-defense.