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2 LA sheriff’s shootings could cost county $5M

Shortly after his swearing in, new L.A. Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he's happy to hear about the White House's plan to use federal funding to supply body cameras to officers.
Erika Aguilar/ KPCC
L.A. Sheriff Jim McDonnell has pledged to reduce the department’s legal liability.

In one case, deputies believed a man had a gun when he didn’t. In another, deputies shot the wrong man.

Both 2014 shootings are on Tuesday’s agenda of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which will consider settling lawsuits by one man who survived and  the family of the other man, who did not. 

The proposed settlements come amid heightened concerns about how much deputy misconduct is costing county taxpayers. Six years ago, the county paid out $5.6 million in claims related to the sheriff’s department. Last year, it paid out $50.9 million for jail beatings by deputies, negligence related to shootings and one incident in which a deputy raped a woman during a traffic stop.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who took office in Dec. 2014, has pledged to reduce the department’s legal liability. Many of the payouts are from incidents years in the past, so any progress in curbing them likely would be seen later.

In one of the cases to be considered by the supervisors, deputies tried to stop Noel Aguilar as he rode his bike on a sidewalk in Long Beach.

In a scenario described often by law enforcement officers, deputies describe Aguilar, 23, as repeatedly "reaching for his waistband" as he fled – cops are trained that could be a sign a suspect has a gun.

When deputies caught up to Aguilar, they tackled him.

At one point, a deputy yells "gun" because Aguilar has freed one of his hands from the deputy's hold. At about the same time, the other deputy feels Aguilar “grab his weapon," according to a report from the Los Angeles County District Attorney. That’s when they opened fire.

During the shooting, one deputy accidentally shot and wounded the other.

Aguilar was killed. He was unarmed.

The county has agreed to pay his family $2.9 million.

In the other case, Jose Hernandez’ family called deputies for help after Hernandez was assaulted by a neighbor in South L.A. Deputies first interviewed Hernandez, then went to talk to the neighbor, who was about 40 feet away.

The neighbor, Johnny Martinez, allegedly came at the deputies with a knife, according to a prosecutor’s report. They opened fire and killed Martinez, but also accidentally shot and wounded Hernandez in the hip.

The county has agreed to pay Hernandez $2 million.

Under California law, any discipline the deputies may have faced is confidential – a point of frustration for police watchdogs who say the law runs counter to law enforcement leaders' pledges of transparency. Those leaders say their hands are tied by the state’s Peace Officer Bill of Rights and one of the strongest lobbies in Sacramento – police unions.