A lawyer for the family of an innocent bystander killed by a sheriff's deputy three months ago filed $1.3 billion in claims against Los Angeles County on Monday, saying she hopes the large request will force authorities to end excessive police force in poor communities.
In a separate development, the Los Angeles FBI office said it opened an investigation Monday into the May 15 shooting death of Gianna Blue, who was killed as she shopped at a liquor store on Central Avenue at Century Blvd. on the edge of Watts.
FBI spokesman Fred Reagan said he could not divulge details of the investigation, which had been requested by the lawyer for Blue's family, but acknowledged that paper work to formally begin the probe had arrived Monday from Washington.
Earlier Monday, the lawyer, Geraldine Green, filed 18 claims against the county on behalf of Blue's four young children, her parents and siblings, plus the owner of the liquor store, three employees and another customer.
At a news conference on the steps of the county Hall of Administration, Green accused the two deputies involved in the incident that led to Blue's death of disregarding the safety of innocent people and the Sheriff's Department of frequent and deadly brutalization of residents of poor neighborhoods.
"The citizens of Watts and South Los Angeles are being killed by police," Green said. "There have been million-dollar claims made before, but apparently (county officials) just pay that out of petty cash and it's business as usual."
Green said she was referring to recent reports in The Times that showed the county had paid $8.5 million during a three-year period as a result of brutality lawsuits against deputies. Most of the victims of excessive force by the Sheriff's Department are poor, Green contended.
If the county fails to respond to the claims within 45 days or rejects them, Green said she will she will file suit in federal court.
Sheriff's Deputy Fidel Gonzales said the department would make no statement about the case because the matter is in litigation. Other county officials reserved comment, saying they had not seen the claims.
Blue, who had turned 30 the day she was killed, was buying things for her birthday party, already in progress at her nearby home, when Deputies Shannon Larren and Thomas Drake ran up to the entrance of the store and fired a volley of shots at a man they said had a gun.
The deputies, both five-year veterans, told investigators their target was Hernandez Vincson, 24, who they contended had run from them into the store then pointed a gun at them. Vincson was shot several times, but survived.
Authorities at first suggested that Vincson shot Blue, but ballistics tests showed that the fatal bullet came from a deputy's gun, having passed through Vincson's arm.
In filing the claims, Green cited what she said was the deputies' failure to identify themselves or shout out a warning to those inside the store before opening fire.