Long Beach to pay nearly $3 million after shooting unarmed man 19 times in 2013

Long Beach will pay nearly $3 million to the family of an unarmed man who was shot 19 times during a fatal clash with police in 2013.

On Wednesday, a federal court jury awarded $1.05 million to the parents of Tyler Woods, who was shot while fleeing Long Beach police officers after he was detained in November of 2013, court records show. The city has also agreed to pay $1.9 million in damages to Woods’ 4-year-old son, according to John Fattahi, one of the attorneys representing the family. 

Woods, 19, of Rialto, ran from police during a vehicle stop, leaping across rooftops and over fences during a daring escape attempt. He was shot at more than three dozen times by officers who believed he was reaching for a weapon, court records show.

“When an officer uses force, and particularly when he bypasses the criminal justice system and effectively imposes the death penalty, it often falls on a jury to make the important decision of whether the force was excessive,” Fattahi said in a statement. “The jury’s verdict in this case reflects a shifting tide among the community, a feeling that enough is enough.”

Woods was wanted on an armed robbery warrant at the time of the shooting. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to charge Officers John Fagan and Daniel Martinez in August 2014, ruling that they had reason to believe Woods was armed based on his desperate attempts to escape and the fact that he had allegedly used a weapon in a previous crime.

The Long Beach Police Department’s shooting review board also decided that the use-of-force was within policy, but it was overruled by then-Police Chief Jim McDonnell, according to the Woods family’s attorneys. McDonnell now serves as Los Angeles County sheriff.

It was not clear what, if any, punishment the officers faced. Sgt. Brad Johnson, a department spokesman, said the agency does not comment on disciplinary matters. McDonnell was not immediately available for comment, according to a sheriff’s department spokesman.

Both Fagan and Martinez remain employed by the Long Beach Police Department, Johnson said.

 

The shooting is one of several to roil Long Beach police in recent years. The department has been sued and criticized for a number of fatal incidents, including two in 2015.

The families of 19-year-old Hector Morejon, who was shot and killed by a police officer investigating a vandalism incident, and Mharloun Saycon, a mentally disabled man whose family says he was seated and unarmed when shot by an officer, both filed wrongful-death suits against the department last year.

According to the Woods family’s lawsuit, which was filed in 2014, the teenager was struck by several volleys of gunfire.

Fagan fired four rounds at Woods as he climbed onto a roof after leading several officers on a chase through an apartment complex, according to a 2014 memorandum issued by the district attorney’s office. Fagan had feared Woods might open fire from the rooftop, the memo said.

Unsure if Woods had been struck by Fagan’s volley, Martinez opened fire, according to the document. Woods then fell to a knee, but, according to the district attorney’s account, he continued to ignore police commands to surrender. When he turned back toward the officers, he was shot again, according to the document.

Woods fell to the ground but continued to attempt to stand, so Fagan fired 10 more shots, according to the document.

Attorneys for Woods’ relatives countered that narrative, claiming the teenager was simply trying to drag his wounded body away from the officers when they continued to shoot him, according to a statement issued Thursday.

Forty rounds were fired in total, according to the family’s lawsuit. Woods was shot nineteen times, and fourteen of those rounds were fired at him from behind, the suit said.

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.

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