Claim Filed Over Police Shooting : Compensation: Widow claims the officer lacked justification for killing her husband. Man had allegedly threatened couple's 7-year-old son.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A North Hills woman, whose husband was shot to death by police because he allegedly refused to drop a screwdriver he was holding to the throat of their 7-year-old son, filed a $10-million wrongful death claim against the city of Los Angeles on Tuesday, calling the shooting unnecessary.

In an interview at her attorney's Encino office, Graciela Galvan gave a version of last week's shooting that conflicts with the police account. Galvan, speaking in Spanish, said her husband, Andres Jesus Espinosa, 35, was not holding their son or posing any danger when the officer shot him once in the face, killing him instantly.

"Everything had calmed down by the time the police arrived," Galvan said, occasionally pausing to compose herself. "The boy said he wanted to go to sleep, so the three of us lay down on the bed, with the boy between us.

"He knew the police were coming to the house, so for some reason he grabbed a screwdriver and took it to bed with him. He said he did not want to go to jail.

"When the officers arrived at our bedroom door, they already had their guns drawn. My husband put his arm around the boy and put the screwdriver near his throat, but it was not pressed against his throat.

"The officers said something in English, and then, in Spanish, one of them said ' deja el nino " (let the boy go). I grabbed the boy away from my husband. He remained on the bed and told the officers ' matame, matame ' (kill me, kill me). Then the officer shot him.

"The officer then came over to me and said he was sorry," she said.

"He did not have to shoot him. He was not threatening anybody. The boy was in my arms. Everything was calm by then."

Galvan's 15-year-old son, Luis, who was also present at the interview, said that when police arrived at their apartment in the 8700 block of Orion Avenue he told them that his mother, stepfather and half-brother were in a back bedroom and that Espinosa had a screwdriver.

"But I didn't think that they were going to do anything," said Luis, who added that while his stepfather occasionally struck his mother during fights he never struck any of the children.

Galvan said that her husband of nine years had been arrested twice for hitting her, once five months ago, the other time about three years ago.

In the claim filed with the city clerk's office, Galvan said that the officer used "unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive force" when he shot and killed her husband. "At the time of the shooting, Espinosa was not threatening any other family member, the police officers or himself," she maintained.

Lt. William Hall, who heads the department's officer-involved shooting unit, said the filing of the claim doesn't surprise him.

"People file claims all the time in officer-involved shootings," Hall said. "In a lot of these cases involving domestic disputes, the man is considered worthless when he's beating up his wife, but now that's he dead, he may be worth something."

Hall said police stand by their account of the shooting, in which they claim Espinosa was holding the boy in a "headlock" and held a screwdriver to his throat when he was shot once by Officer Yehuda Packer, 33, who has been with the department seven years.

The officer is "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't," Hall said. "If he doesn't shoot him and the child is killed or injured he would he be criticized and probably sued. But you do what you do and save the child and you can sleep at night."

A spokesman for the city attorney's office said statistics on the number of claims filed over officer-involved shootings were not immediately available.

A claim must be filed and rejected, or go unresolved for 45 days, before a lawsuit can be filed.

Galvan's attorneys, Arnold Abrams and Susan Balistocky, said they intend to file a lawsuit if the claim is rejected.

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