A federal appeals court Wednesday unanimously upheld a $4.1-million award to a homeless couple shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in a backyard shack.
The 2010 shooting occurred during a search for a wanted parolee who had been spotted in the Lancaster neighborhood where the couple was staying.
Angel Mendez and Jennifer Lynn Garcia, who had no permanent home, were living in a plywood shed in the backyard of a friend’s home. Garcia was five months pregnant.
Sheriff’s deputies entered the main house without a warrant and detained the owner, who had no connection to the parolee deputies sought.
During a search of the backyard, two other deputies found the shed and entered it without announcing themselves.
One of them saw a gun, and the deputies fired 15 shots. The weapon the deputy saw turned out to be a BB gun that Mendez used to shoot rats that entered the shed.
The shooting required Mendez to have one leg amputated below the knee. Garcia was shot once in the back.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the deputies violated the couple’s 4th Amendment rights by entering the wooden shack without a warrant.
The court rejected the deputies’ argument that the dilapidated building did not appear to be a dwelling.
Warrants are required for all outbuildings used in connection with a residence, including garages, sheds and barns, the 9th Circuit said.
“The deputies here should have been aware that the shack in the backyard was being used as a separate residence,” wrote Judge Ronald M. Gould, a Clinton appointee. “The deputies were told that a couple was living behind the house, and the shack itself was surrounded by an air conditioning unit, electric cord, water hose, and clothes locker.”
The court said officers must knock and announce their presence before entering a second, separate residence on a property.