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L.A. County to pay $3 million after shots fired by deputies at charging dog mistakenly kill teen

Roberta Alcantar, mother of the victim, is comforted by Pharaoh Mitchell
Roberta Alcantar, left, mother of the victim, is comforted by Pharaoh Mitchell, co-founder of the Community Action League, in Palmdale.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Armando Garcia was spending time with friends in Palmdale one summer morning when Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies showed up in response to a complaint over loud music.

During the 2017 encounter, officials said, a pit bull charged at the deputies and they opened fire. A bullet ricocheted off the ground or a hard object and fatally struck the 17-year-old Garcia in the chest.

Now Los Angeles County will pay $3 million to Garcia’s family as part of a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit Garcia’s mother, Roberta Alcantar, filed after the shooting.

“It was a tremendous loss to the family,” said Brian Panish, an attorney representing the family. “We’re glad that the county has stepped up and accepted responsibility and the family will not have to endure this lawsuit any longer, although the loss will continue with them the rest of their lives.”

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The county said it would avoid further litigation costs with the settlement. The deputies have denied the allegations that they fired recklessly and contend their actions were reasonable. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved the agreement on Tuesday.

In the lawsuit, Alcantar alleged that when deputies arrived about 3:40 a.m. on June 22, 2017, they instructed the boys to turn off the music and restrain the dog in the backyard. Garcia attempted to do so, but it became agitated when deputies shined flashlights and cameras toward it, the lawsuit said.

The dog then escaped from Garcia’s arms and the deputies fired at it multiple times “without warning or legal justification,” the lawsuit said.

County records say that, prior to the shooting, the dog had attacked deputies, biting one of them in the left knee. It then lunged toward another deputy and the authorities ordered the group of friends to secure the dog.

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A sergeant arrived at the complex soon after and as he was trying to send the injured deputy to the hospital, the pit bull broke free, county records said. It ran up and attacked a deputy, Victor Ekanem, who pulled out his gun and fired four times. The pit bull then ran toward the sergeant, James Dillard, who fired twice.

Garcia was struck in the chest by a ricocheting bullet. He was taken to a hospital and died of his injuries. The dog survived the shooting but was later euthanized.

In November, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office concluded that the shooting of Garcia was an accident. Prosecutors said in a memo that the use of force by deputies to defend themselves against a charging 73-pound pit bull was reasonable and necessary. The report included a photo of a bite mark on a deputy’s knee.

Under the department’s use-of-force policy, deputies are allowed to fire at animals if they “reasonably believe” that they’re about to be killed or seriously injured by the animal.

Garcia was about to enter his senior year at R. Rex Parris High School in Palmdale. The eldest of four siblings, he loved dogs and aspired to go into construction, Alcantar has told The Times.


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