With a trial scheduled for May 28, all legal proceedings have been halted temporarily in the $20-million lawsuit brought by the mother of a 5-year-old boy who was accidentally shot to death two years ago by a Stanton police officer.
The delay came about when the attorney for the since-retired officer, Anthony Sperl, filed a petition in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeking to remove the case from the Orange County Superior Court.
U.S. Judge A. Wallace Tashima set for May 20 a hearing to determine if he will accept consolidated civil actions stemming from the March 3, 1983, death of Patrick Andrew Mason.
The shooting and its aftermath have drawn nationwide publicity, and have been the basis for several episodes of the popular “Hill Street Blues” television series.
Patrick’s mother, Patricia Ridge, who now lives in Chicago, had left the boy in their apartment because she had to go to work and could not find anyone to watch him.
Sperl, responding to a request to check on the family’s welfare, got a manager’s passkey, entered the apartment and heard a noise coming from a bedroom. When he called out and got no answer, he kicked in the bedroom door, saw a figure in the dimly lit room pointing a gun at him and fired one shot. The figure was the boy, holding a toy gun.
Ridge sued Sperl and Stanton, alleging negligence and wrongful death. Sperl filed a cross-complaint against the city, alleging improper training and negligence for providing him particularly damaging bullets. The boy’s father, Larry R. Hewitt, a felon in Illinois state prison at Joliet, then sued Stanton, Sperl and Ridge, with whom he had lived but never married. The court actions have been consolidated.
Last June, Sperl’s attorney, Stephen Yagman of Los Angeles, asked the federal court to take the case, but it refused because the petition was filed after the time period allowed for it had lapsed and because the city had not joined in the request.
While those and other problems remain with the the current petition, Yagman said he thinks his legal arguments will be more persuasive this time.
“I think the underlying claims are claims for federal civil rights violations, and I think the federal court is better equipped to handle it,” Yagman said. While none of the previous pleadings claimed a federal law violation, Hewitt’s complaint was amended in late April to include violation of federally protected civil rights.
Regardless of whether the federal court takes the case, the trial will not start on May 28, lawyers in the case said. Yagman said he has federal court trials lasting until September.