From [HERE] and [HERE] The U.S. Supreme Court Monday let stand a nearly $4 million award to a formerly homeless Lancaster couple for a raid by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies that caused the man to lose a leg.
In declining to take up the case involving Angel and Jennifer Mendez, the nation’s highest court upheld an appellate panel’s finding that the deputies were liable for the warrantless raid while searching for a parolee-at-large.
Angel Mendez and his wife sued Los Angeles County eight years ago, alleging excessive force and federal civil rights violations.
Angel Mendez was shot approximately ten times and suffered severe injuries. He lost much of his leg below the knee, and he faces substantial ongoing medical expenses. Jennifer Lynn Garcia (now Jennifer Mendez,) who was pregnant, was shot in the upper back and left hand. On the afternoon of the shooting, both were sleeping in their modest home, a small one room structure on the property of Paula Hughes. Two Los Angeles County Sherriff's deputies, Conley and Pederson, unlawfully entered the structure. In doing so, they roused the sleeping Mr. Mendez. In rising from the futon on which he had slept, Mr. Mendez picked up a BB gun that was on the futon to place it on the floor. In the process, the gun was pointed in the general direction of Conley and Pederson. The deputies, believing that the BB gun threatened them, quickly opened fire.
Before the shooting, deputies of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department were searching for a parolee-at-large, Ronnie O'Dell. A confidential informant had seen someone resembling O'Dell riding a bicycle in front of Paula Hughes' home. After a briefing during which officers were told that a couple resided in a shack behind Hughes' home, officers were dispatched to the scene and entered Hughes' house. Officers Conley and Pederson, who were among the officers informed about the couple living in the backyard of the Hughes property, were charged with searching the area to the rear of the house. Conley and Pederson, guns drawn and on alert because they believed O'Dell to be armed and dangerous, approached the structure in which the Mendezes resided. There were many apparent signs that the structure was a residence, including: an electrical cord was running to it; an air conditioner was installed; and some storage lockers were nearby. Conley and Pederson nevertheless entered the structure without announcing their presence, and a split second later, misperceiving the threat posed by the BB gun, shot the Mendezes, which caused their grave injuries. [MORE]
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald handed down his ruling for the plaintiffs in Los Angeles federal court in August 2013, awarding $3.8 million to Mendez and $222,000 to his wife, for damages resulting from Fourth Amendment violations by the deputies.
JudgeFitzgerald found that their constitutional rights to privacy were violated when deputies subjected them to an unlawful search and seizure. Fitzgerald found the deputies didn’t have legal grounds to search the background and therefore are responsible for damages.
“It’s hard to imagine how two people could be at fault for lying in a shack on a bed doing nothing,” said Gerald Ryckman, one of the couple’s attorneys.
Angel and Jennifer Mendez were living on, in a backyard shed behind a front house. The couple had fallen on hard times and were practically homeless, said the judge. A friend of Angel Mendez allowed them to stay in the shack-like structure till they got back on their feet. [MORE]
The deputies appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016, unsuccessfully arguing that the dilapidated wooden shack did not appear to be a residence and consequently a warrant was not required.
Affirming Fitzgerald’s finding, the appellate panel determined that the deputies should have known that the shack was occupied, since it was “surrounded by an air conditioning unit, electric cord, water hose, and clothes locker.”
County lawyers then appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the appellate ruling. However, the 9th Circuit upheld the ruling last year, again finding the deputies liable. This time, the Supreme Court declined without comment to consider a further appeal.