LBAC WINS HIGH PROFILE “SUICIDE BY COP” WRONGFUL DEATH TRIAL

On January 18, 2007, a Norwalk jury returned a verdict in favor of the City of Downey and two of its police officers in a high profile “suicide by cop” wrongful death case in Martinez v. City of Downey, et. al, Case No. BC 277402. The suit arose from a high-speed vehicle pursuit following an attempt to stop the decedent for suspected driving under the influence. After decedent crashed during the pursuit, officers approached the car on foot to arrest decedent, who then tried to run down an officer with his car prompting shots from three separate officers. Thereafter, decedent resumed the vehicle pursuit until police eventually pinned decedent’s car into parked vehicle on a city street. A stand-off ensued, with decedent ignoring numerous commands to exit the car, put his hands in the air, and surrender. Approximately eleven minutes after his car was pinned, decedent opened the driver’s door and stepped out of the car wearing an unzipped jacket and directly facing the officers. Officers ordered decedent to put his hands in the air. Decedent raised his right hand, placed a cigarette in his mouth, and then reached with his right hand underneath the rear portion of his jacket towards the waistband area. Believing that the decedent was reaching for a weapon, three officers fired upon the decedent. One officer fired fifteen rounds from an MP-5 sub-machine gun. Another fired two “bean-bag” rounds and a third fired one round from a .9 millimeter handgun, killing the decedent. No weapon was found on the decedent.

Plaintiffs, decedent’s parents, disputed the claim that decedent placed his hand behind his back. On the evening of the shooting, Plaintiffs came to the police station to find out if the decedent was their son and reported that the decedent had an alcohol problem for ten years. The father also stated that the night before the shooting, he had gotten into an argument with decedent over decedent’s drinking, during which decedent said “before I embarrass the family, I will die.” At trial, Plaintiffs denied having made these statements. Defense counsel David Lawrence successfully argued that the decedent intentionally precipitated his own death, i.e., “suicide by cop.”