LOS ANGELES — A Lancaster, California, couple that was awarded
$4 million in damages for a California police shooting three years
ago could have its award reversed after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed
to consider overturning it.
According to a report from the Southern
California Public Radio, on Oct. 1, 2010, two Los Angeles
Sheriff’s deputies, Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson, shot
Angel Mendez a total of 14 times, and his wife, Jennifer Mendez, who
was seven months pregnant at the time, once in the back, during a
search for a parolee after storming the wooden shack they were
residing in. Doctors were later forced to amputate one of Angel
In June 2011, they sued L.A. County, with Judge Michael Fitzgerald
ruling in favor of the couple, finding that the deputies had violated
the couple’s constitutional rights to privacy, subjecting them to
an unlawful search and seizure, and responsible for damages. In 2013,
the Mendezes were awarded the $4 million in damages.
The report said police-department officials were surprised by the
ruling, particularly the finding that the deputies had conducted an
A Reuters news story
said that the shooting started while 12 police officers were
searching for a drug-using parolee by the name of Ronnie O’Dell who
was suspected of violating his parole agreement and was believed to
be hiding from authorities. On a tip from an informant, it was
thought that the wanted parolee was seen on the same street on which
Angel and Jennifer Mendez were living.
It is alleged that the deputies decided to search a shack at the
rear of a house, which subsequently saw them conducting a warrantless
raid. After opening the door unannounced, it is thought that they saw
Angel Mendez holding what they believed was a rifle and opened fire
15 times. Mendez was holding a BB gun.
After falling on hard times, the Mendezes were staying
in the wooden shack behind the house that belonged to a friend until
they got back on their feet.
Weekly stated that Mendez’s federal lawsuit alleged that the
officers charged into Mendez’s home without knocking or announcing
their presence, and that the deputies had obtained no search warrant.
However, Fitzgerald stated that because of an electrical cord
running to the shack, clothes hanging outside along with a garden
hose and an air-conditioning unit, the deputies should have realized
someone was living there. Not only that, but as SCPR reports, during
the search briefing, a deputy informed the team that someone was
living in the wooden shack.
Now, though, in a recent turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court
has agreed to hear the appeal of the two deputies involved and the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upholding of the
damages in 2013.
reported that the Supreme Court will consider whether the two
deputies can claim immunity in their defense of the civil-rights
lawsuit filed by the couple.
In general, police officers are typically protected from
civil-rights claims concerning use of force unless the plaintiffs can
demonstrate that the actions violated the Fourth Amendment
prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments and issue a ruling
by the end of June.