Jurors Award $33.5 Million to Family of Man Fatally Shot by Sheriff’s Deputy in California

Nathaniel Harris Pickett Jr

California – Jurors in a federal civil rights trial have awarded $33.5 million to the family of a man who was shot and killed by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy during a 2015 encounter at the El Rancho Motel in Barstow.

The eight-member jury deliberated for around two hours before unanimously awarding the parents of Nathaniel Harris Pickett Jr. $15.5 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages, said Dale Galipo, a veteran civil rights attorney from Woodland Hills who represented the family during the trial.

“It’s the jury’s way of saying they will not tolerate the continued police shootings of unarmed people. The message it sends is that unjustified shootings will not be tolerated,” Galipo said.

He said he thought the jury’s monetary award might be the largest in the country involving a police shooting, and certainly the largest he has received from a jury in the 15 years he has been trying excessive use of force and wrongful death cases involving police.

“I need to step back and pinch myself. It’s almost unbelievable,” Galipo said.

San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert referred comment to the Sheriff’s Department.

“We strongly disagree with the outcome based on the evidence in this case,” sheriff’s Lt. Sarkis Ohannessian said in a statement. “Our attorneys, the department and the county, will be discussing appealing the jury’s award.”

The federal lawsuit accused Deputy Kyle Woods of shooting an unarmed, mentally ill Pickett after a foot chase that began shortly after 9 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2015. Pickett had fallen down, the lawsuit alleged, and was on the ground, scooting back when the deputy shot him in the chest.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office concluded that the shooting was justified.

County prosecutors wrote in a report released in November 2016 that Woods believed Pickett was under the influence of a controlled substance and that Pickett had resisted arrest and punched the deputy, fracturing his nasal bone and knocking his head on cement.

The DA’s report indicated that Pickett attempted to grab Woods’ gun, causing the deputy to feel he was in a “life or death struggle with Pickett.”

Attorney’s for the Pickett family disputed the DA’s findings, and accused the deputy of changing his story multiple times.

“This was an outrageous and egregious killing of Nathaniel Pickett. There was no justification for the detention, arrest, and the use of deadly force,” said Victorville defense attorney Sharon Brunner, who along with attorney Jim Terrell also represented Pickett’s family in the case. “There were so many other things this deputy could have done to de-escalate the situation that would have not resulted in Nate’s death. It was just shocking.”

Terrell called the shooting “malicious” and said Woods is a rookie.

Ohannessian said Woods, after graduating the Sheriff’s Academy, began working in December 2013 at the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto. In August of 2014, he became a patrol deputy assigned to Barstow. In July, he will have been working for the Sheriff’s Department for five years, Ohannessian said.

In awarding the monetary damages to Pickett’s family, the jurors found that the deputy unreasonably detained Pickett, unreasonably delayed medical aid and was negligent in the use of deadly force, the attorney’s said.

Galipo – who in recent years has represented families of high-profile officer involved shooting victims in Anaheim and Long Beach, among other cities – said Pickett’s parents are pleased with the verdict, but still frustrated that the deputy won’t face criminal prosecution.

Brunner said she hopes Wednesday’s jury award will prompt the federal government – the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office – to investigate further and prosecute Woods. She said that has always been the main focus of Pickett’s parents. Pickett’s mother, Dominic Archibald, spoke out about the shooting during a May 2016 press conference in Victorville.

Galipo noted that surveillance video from the motel captured Pickett tripping, falling and scooting away from Wood’s, but did not show Pickett striking the deputy.

While it wasn’t mentioned to jurors, the attorneys noted that Woods was also involved in a second officer-involved shooting earlier this year in Barstow.

On Jan. 14, a deputy Terrell and Brunner identified as Woods chased Ryan Scott Martinez, 27, after he refused to pull over for a traffic stop. Martinez, who had a felony arrest warrant for an assault case out of Kern County, apparently lost control of his vehicle and overturned in a drainage ditch, at which point he was shot by Woods.

Terrell said he will likely be filing a federal lawsuit against Woods on behalf of Martinez, who survived the shooting. Brunner said Martinez was unarmed and had his hands raised at the time of the shooting. It is believed the bullet pierced Martinez’s hand before entering his chest, possibly saving his life, she said.

Source: https://www.sbsun.com/2018/03/14/jurors-award-33-5-million-to-family-of-man-fatally-shot-by-police-in-barstow/