A jury has awarded $1.1 million to a Palmdale teenager who, while holding a toy gun, was shot in the back by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.
Deputy Scott Sorrow used excessive force when he shot William Fetters in Palmdale on May 10, 2009, a jury found Wednesday. Fetters was 15 at the time of the shooting.
“He’s had a lot of emotional distress being the victim of a wrongful shooting,” said Fetters’ attorney, Bradley Gage. “He’s thankful that he has a chance to let the healing process begin. He’s hopeful that the verdict will send a message to the Sheriff’s Department that it needs to protect the community better.”
Fetters is fully recovered from his physical injuries and is finishing high school, Gage said.
Fetters was on his bicycle playing with other children when Sorrow and his partner, Andrew Campbell, approached in a patrol car. According to Gage, the boy complied with a command to drop his weapon, but Sorrow shot him anyway.
The Sheriff’s Department disputes that account. The gun looked like a real handgun, not a toy, and Fetters was pointing it at the deputies when he was shot, spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
“Nobody wants this to happen with a 15-year-old kid on a bike. This kind of result -- nobody wants that,” Whitmore said. “Having said that, the entrance of the bullet was indicative of the young man holding out his arm as if he were pointing the weapon at the deputy.”
Whitmore said the department strongly disagrees with the judgment and may appeal. Sorrow still works as a patrol deputy.
Attorneys for both sides were back in Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige’s courtroom Thursday after the jury foreman complained that a sheriff’s investigator had tried to interview him about the verdict.
Nicole Davis Tinkham, who represents the Sheriff’s Department and other defendants, said the questioner was a private investigator hired by her law firm.
Attorneys are allowed to request post-trial interviews, but jurors might feel intimidated if they believe the interviewer is representing law enforcement, Hiroshige said. He issued an order requiring defense representatives to clearly identify themselves and state that the questioning is voluntary.