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 Mendez's legs.
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 unlawful search.
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.
The LA 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.
Reuters 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.