The parents of an aspiring television producer taken hostage in a West Hollywood apartment and then killed by sheriff's deputies who mistakenly thought he was a suspect have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the deputies were negligent and used excessive force.
The lawsuit offers new details about the killing of John Winkler, 30, who was shot April 7 by deputies responding to a report of a man with a knife at a West Hollywood apartment complex.
Winkler was visiting friends in the complex when Alexander McDonald, 28, attacked the men with a knife, the lawsuit said. Winkler rushed at McDonald and then pushed a friend to the door and opened it, the lawsuit alleges. Deputies outside the room began firing and the friend was struck in the leg.
"Mr. Winkler jumped over him with his hands above his head," the lawsuit said. "He was shot several times."
The lawsuit alleges that before the shooting a woman in the apartment complex showed deputies pictures of McDonald and Winkler, identifying McDonald as the assailant. One deputy allegedly showed the photo of McDonald to other deputies, saying "Alex is our guy."
Officials said Winkler fit the general description of the suspect, and when he bolted out of an apartment, deputies believed he was the assailant and opened fire. Authorities later said Winkler was actually being held hostage by the suspect.
"The family is devastated," Simeon Osborn, one of the attorneys representing Winkler's parents, said Wednesday. "No one should ever have to bury their child, but no one should ever have to bury their child who was saving someone else, only to be shot by the people they called for help."
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, seeks unspecified damages. It names Los Angeles County, the sheriff's department and three deputies: Michael Fairbank, Byron Holloway and Gerardo Baldivia.
Capt. Shaun Mathers, a sheriff's spokesman, said he could not immediately confirm the names of the deputies involved in the shooting. He called the incident "tragic."
"I think this is something the department hopes it can resolve," he said.
The incident took place in an apartment complex on Palm Avenue off Santa Monica Boulevard. When deputies arrived, sheriff's officials said, a witness told them there were two men in the apartment, and that the attacker was a thin white man wearing a black shirt.
Deputies announced themselves at the apartment door but got no response, according to a sheriff's statement. Then, officials said, the door "suddenly opened" and a man rushed out, covered in blood.
"Simultaneously, Winkler ran out of the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim," the sheriff's department said. "Both ran directly at the deputies."
Three deputies opened fire, striking the first man in the leg and Winkler in the chest.
McDonald pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder and torture.
In a statement, Winkler's mother said she hoped her son's death would help stop "unnecessary violence."
"My son was helping a wounded friend escape a dangerous situation, but the greater threat was just outside the door," Lisa Ostergren said. "Law enforcement must change the way they approach hostage situations so tragedies like this don't happen again."