Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to pay out $375,000 to the mother of a homeless combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, who was fatally shot after threatening the deputy with a wooden dowel rod.

On the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2013, deputies encountered 49-year-old Darrell Atkinson hiding or crawling behind a line of grocery carts under an overpass of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway near Venice Boulevard and Cadillac Avenue.

A news release from the Sheriff’s Department issued shortly after the shooting said Atkinson grabbed a wooden stick from one of the shopping carts.

“The suspect suddenly armed himself with a wooden stick,” Deputy Mark Pope of the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau told a reporter following the shooting. “He advanced toward the deputies with the wooden stick overhead.”

The summary provided to the board referred to the weapon as a wooden club.

The deputy ordered Atkinson to drop the club and “continued to retreat until he felt that he was about to fall backwards off the curb and into traffic,” according to the document. “Fearing for his safety, the deputy sheriff discharged three rounds from his department-issued duty weapon.”

When Atkinson kept moving forward, the deputy fired three more shots, according to the summary.

County attorneys recommended paying $375,000 to settle the claim brought by Atkinson’s mother, Alice Stockton, due to the “risks and uncertainties of litigation.”

Civil rights attorney Brian Dunn, who represents Stockton, told KPCC that he believed many shootings like Atkinson’s could be avoided if officers called for backup and waited out volatile situations.

“What happens is the officer closes the distance, the officer draws some kind of weapon,” Dunn said. “And what you have is a showdown between one person who’s armed with a weapon — a gun usually — and one person who’s disobeying them.”

Dunn said the deputies, who were with the county’s transit bureau, had stopped Atkinson earlier for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. After letting him go, they followed him to the freeway underpass, according to Dunn.

No mention of the earlier encounter was included in the summary to the board, which offered contradictory statements about whether there was a reasonable way out of what became a deadly situation.

Though the “primary root cause” was listed as Atkinson’s failure to follow the deputy’s orders, a “secondary root cause” was also noted.

“A Taser, or other less-lethal option, was not utilized. When the decedent armed himself with a weapon capable of great bodily injury, the first deputy drew his firearm, foreclosing on the opportunity to deploy (or ever consider) a less-lethal option.”

Though the deputy who fired on Atkinson wasn’t carrying a Taser, his partner had one and there was a less-lethal stunbag shotgun in the trunk of their patrol car.

The summary concludes that it wouldn’t have been “practical” for the deputy to re-holster his gun to retrieve a Taser, even if he was carrying it on his person, given how quickly Atkinson was coming at him and the likelihood that Atkinson could seriously injure or kill him.

Though the deputy was deemed to have acted in self-defense and in accordance with department policy, both he and his partner were required to attend classes on tactics and survival training and dealing with the mentally ill.

Atkinson’s mental illness was also cited as a contributing factor. Atkinson left his family and mental health treatment in Texas to live on the streets in Los Angeles.

Though investigators identified no systemic issues related to the shooting, the summary noted that the Sheriff’s Department has since expanded mental health training for its deputies and increased staffing for field mental health crisis teams that include social workers.

The board unanimously approved the settlement and signed off on the corrective action plan without comment.

—  City News Service 

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