Family of man killed by L.A. County deputy files claim [Updated]
The family of an unarmed man fatally shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was chasing him filed a legal claim against the county today, saying the department had a propensity for such shootings, and a change in policy is needed to stop deputies from firing at fleeing people.
Darrick Collins, 36, posed no threat to a deputy who chased him up his driveway Sept. 14 and was in his own backyard behind a gate when the deputy fired three times, fatally injuring him, said attorney Randy McMurray of the law firm found by the late Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. [Updated at 5:38 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled Darrick Collins' first name as Derrick.]
McMurray represents the family that filed the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit.
Collins was found about 15 feet behind the wooden gate on manicured Poindexter Street in the heart of the Athens neighborhood.
McMurray said Collins' killing is one of four shootings of men, three of which were fatal, that have occurred at the hands of deputies in a small part of southeast L.A. County in recent years.
"This isn't something we've seen before in one area," said McMurray, whose law firm represents the families in all four cases that occurred in Athens and Compton.
"This family wants change," said Brian Dunn, another family attorney."The family wants to make sure this type of thing does not happen to another family, to another daughter to another son to another community."
Dunn said Sheriff Lee Baca, in the wake of community outrage over the shooting, has made a public commitment to examine the way deputies deal with suspects they are pursuing.
"Saying they got to do it is not enough for this family," he said. "They have to change procedure."
At a news conference today just a few feet away from where Collins was killed, his mother, Bernastein Huckaby, said, "I just want justice for him. They took my son's life."
Sheriff's officials said there have been 13 fatal officer-involved shootings so far in 2009 compared to five for the same period last year. Of this year's shootings, four of the victims were unarmed, said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
According to sheriff's investigators, deputies were searching for two robbery suspects when they spotted Collins and another man shortly after 10 p.m. As they tried to detain Collins, he ran up an alley next to a home and went into a gated yard, officials said. A deputy tried to follow.
Believing Collins was reaching for a weapon in his waistband, the deputy fired three shots, according to investigators. Collins was hit twice in the side and once in the back of his neck. The deputy fired at least two of the rounds through a 6-foot wooden gate, investigators said. Detectives found a cellphone but no weapon on Collins. They also determined that he was not the robbery suspect they were looking for.
Collins, the father of two, had been arrested two weeks before on suspicion of drug possession, investigators said. When he was killed, he was found with 24 tablets made with ecstasy and methamphetamine, officials said.
The attorneys said all three bullets traveled through the closed gate. They also said that deputies too often claim to have seen a "furtive movement" by their unarmed victims, who are frequently young, black men killed at night.
In the wake of the shooting, Baca has ordered all shootings of unarmed people to be completed in 90 days instead of the usual year or more, and he convened a panel of his top shooting experts to examine deputy-involved shootings and the tactics used in such confrontations.
Baca has refused to identify the deputy involved in the shooting.
The Homicide Report: Chronicling L.A. County homicide victims.