The parents and the surviving daughter of a Black teenager killed in a deputy-involved shooting filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles County and 10 sheriff's department employees, the family's attorneys announced Wednesday.
Anthony Weber was 16 when the encounter with Sheriff's deputies occurred on the evening of Sunday, February 4. There was a foot pursuit that ended in the courtyard of an apartment complex in the 1200 block of 107th Street in the Westmont neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Afterwards, the department said the deputies had spotted a handgun tucked into the teen's pants before he ran, but no weapon was recovered at the scene.
Early on, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said investigators suspected Weber either disposed of the gun during the foot pursuit, or that it was taken by someone in the crowd that came out of doors into the courtyard after the shots were fired.
The suit contends Weber was unarmed.
"Anthony Weber committed no crime," said attorney Gregory A. Yates, who is representing Weber's family in the complaint filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, alleging negligence and wrongful death. "He was unarmed and posed no threat to anyone. These deputies acted as judge, jury and executioner when they fired multiple shots at an innocent kid."
In a written statement issued Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department said it will not respond to specific assertions before its investigation is complete.
However, a window into the investigation is provided in a search warrant affidavit filed last month in Superior Court. The affidavit, signed by Detective Sgt. Richard Biddle, reveals investigation into Weber's connections to the 107 Hoover Gang. It discloses that investigators recovered what they believe is the gun Weber had when the responding deputies first saw him that night.
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According to the affidavit, one of the deputies described it as a Smith & Wesson M&P with a holographic sight. Such a gun was recovered in March during a search of another apartment on 107th street, targeted for suspected gang activity there, Biddle declared in the affidavit.
It also sheds additional light on the chain of events as investigators have pieced it together. According to that scenario, the deputies were responding to a call of a motorist threatened by a person who pointed a black handgun. They spotted the young man later identified as Weber with a female in the rear of the apartment's parking area. Suspecting Weber was the gunman, the deputies ordered both to raise their hands, and it was at that point that "one of the deputies observed Weber had a very distinctive type of a semi-automatic pistol in his waistband."
According to the narrative, Weber then turned and ran toward the apartment courtyard, disappearing from the deputies' view as he went through a hallway. They saw him again in the courtyard, and the first deputy gave Weber commands to stop and surrender.
"Weber stopped running, turned back toward the deputy, while lowering his hands to Weber's waistband area. An Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) then occurred and Weber was shot. Weber fell to the ground, at which time a large hostile crowd gathered around the deputies," according to the affidavit.
The Weber family lawsuit faults the deputies for waiting before getting Weber medical aid. The affidavit asserts the crowd prevented deputies from doing so until additional deputies arrived "and order was restored."
The affidavit also reveals that detectives are investigating potential witnesss intimidation by at least one person close to Weber. Recordings of conversations with a jailed gang member are cited in the affidavit.
The 22-page lawsuit, which seeks at least $10 million in damages, does not name the 10 defendants, including four sheriff's deputies who were at the scene of the shooting, two supervising officers and four managerial or policy-making employees of the department.
In its Wednesday statement, the Department said it was "frustrating" that it could not comment on the evidence while the case is pending.
"Justice is not achieved in seconds, minutes or hours but during months of a painstaking, detailed process of getting the facts right beyond a reasonable doubt," the statement reads. "Evidence is not opinion. This is what makes justice worth fighting for, and waiting for. We have watched as individuals hurl allegations or immediately assume that deputy-involved shootings and the aftermath are signs of police misconduct."
The department added that "there is a growing body of evidence in this case that is undeniable, and yet, to protect the integrity of the investigation, to continue to maintain open channels of communication for more potential witnesses to come forward, we must stay silent.
"We too must wait for the months of evidence testing, re-testing and examination by numerous county professionals which is taking place under the oversight of L.A. County's Office of Inspector General which has complete access to evidence and witness statements,'' the statement reads. "The day will come when the evidence will speak for us because, in the best system of justice in the world, it is the evidence that must matter the most."
The plaintiffs allege that the boy was deprived of his right against unreasonable and excessive force as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. The family's lawyers also contend the decedent suffered extreme mental and physical pain before losing his life.
"Anthony was a devoted, loving son and young father whose life was tragically cut short," said co-lead counsel Dale K. Galipo. "We intend to prove that under the color of authority, the deputies engaged in excessive force and violated the young man's constitutional rights."
No video footage of the shooting itself has been located. The plaintiffs located a brief video looking through a doorway into the courtyard and showing a single deputy standing outside. It was not clear at what time it was recorded.
According to the sheriff's department, one witness reported hearing deputies say, "Don't reach for it," presumably referring to a gun, though that witness did not see one.
The family's legal team told NBC4 they have a witness who said Weber was not armed. The affidavit recounted an investigator telling attorney Yates they would like to speak to the witness, but Yates declined, expressing concern the witness would face intimidation.