The mother of an aspiring TV producer killed by sheriff’s deputies who mistakenly thought he was an armed suspect has filed a claim against Los Angeles County seeking $25 million.
Lisa Ostergren, mother of 30-year-old John Winkler, filed the claim this week accusing the sheriff’s department of being responsible for her son’s death. Winkler was fatally shot in the chest by deputies responding to a report of a man with a knife in West Hollywood on April 7.
A claim is typically a precursor to a lawsuit when a government entity is named.
Officials have said Winkler fit the general description of the suspect, and when he bolted out of an apartment in the 900 block of Palm Avenue, deputies believed he was the assailant and opened fire.
Another man who ran out of the door just before Winkler was shot once in the leg but survived.
“The only way you can get to the truth and accountability is through the legal process,” the family’s attorney, Sim Osborn, told The Times in a phone interview. “We want them held accountable, not only those who did the shooting, but those who do the training. It’s got to change. This was a completely preventable tragedy.”
Deputies should have recognized Winkler wasn’t the suspect because a tenant in the building showed them a picture of the alleged attacker, Alex McDonald, before the shooting, according to the claim.
“John Winkler had committed no crime. He had no weapon. He had made no offensive moves toward the sheriff’s deputies,” the claim states.
Sheriff’s officials said that when they got to the apartment complex, a witness told them there were two men in the apartment and that the assailant was a thin white man wearing a black shirt.
Deputies announced themselves at the apartment but got no response, investigators said. Then, according to a sheriff’s department statement describing the incident, the apartment door “suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out.”
The man was described as being covered in blood and “bleeding profusely” from the neck.
“Simultaneously, Winkler ran out of the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim. Both ran directly at the deputies,” the sheriff’s department said.
Deputies had only a split second to react, officials added.
“Taking the life of an innocent person is a police officer’s greatest nightmare,” Interim Sheriff John Scott said at a news conference after the shooting. He added that the deputies had the “best of intent” and were trying to protect a stabbing victim from who they believed was the assailant.
All three deputies involved in the shooting returned to active duty last week.
After the shooting, deputies heard the sounds of a fight going on inside the apartment and found McDonald allegedly choking and tearing at the face of another man. He was arrested and has since been charged with murder in connection with Winkler’s death, as well as two counts of attempted murder and torture. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month and is due back in court May 8.
Winkler’s father, meanwhile, has been inconsolable since the shooting, Ostergren said.
“We don’t want any other families to have to go through the nightmare and the pain we’re experiencing right now,” Ostergren said.
Most of Winkler’s family lives in Washington and saw him leave for Southern California to chase his dreams just last year. He has a little brother in California and another in the military stationed in Germany.
Before his death, Winkler was full of hope because of a recent job, Ostergren added. He’d managed to work a few days on the popular Comedy Central show “Tosh.O”.
“He called home and had to tell everybody,” Ostergren said. “He was so excited. He’s finally made it. He’s in the door. He told me that he was going to work really, really hard.”