In a mixed verdict, a federal judge awarded $3 million to the parents of an 18-year-old honor student shot and killed by plainclothes drug enforcement agents, but also determined that the authorities were not negligent in their actions.
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald said that DEA agents had reason to believe they were in danger, but determined that the agents should not have fired their weapons at Zachary Champommier‘s car because shooting at a moving vehicle would not have helped their predicament.
The shooting of Champommier, who had recently graduated from Granada Hills Charter High at the time of the 2010 encounter, sparked outrage among the teen’s family and friends, who described the teen as a “band geek,” and not someone who would intentionally confront authorities.
The teen’s mother, Carol Champommier, alleged in a wrongful death lawsuit that federal and local drug enforcement officers recklessly shot at her son, who she claimed posed no reasonable threat.
Fitzgerald heard testimony earlier this year.
Champommier had come to the Studio City parking lot to meet a friend he’d chatted with online the night before. After he arrived and parked nearby, he saw his friend, Douglas Ryan Oeters, being detained by the officers, who were dressed in street clothes.
The 18-year-old then drove his mother’s car forward, hitting a sheriff’s deputy. How quickly he accelerated was in dispute.
The officers, who included members of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD, were in the lot discussing a search warrant they had just served. They suspected Oeters was attempting to break into vehicles.
Champommier “had no way of knowing that these were law enforcement officers rather than criminal thugs,” and he drove his car to “escape the danger,” according to the suit.
But the U.S. government as well as Sheriff’s Department officials said at the time that Champommier tried to run down a deputy. The shooting, they contended, was reasonable.
“The nature of [Champommier’s] aggressive actions, actually hitting the deputy — that is not someone who is without some degree of fault,” Sheriff Lee Baca said shortly after the shooting.