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Laguna Beach to face lawsuit after City Council denies claim in officer-involved shooting

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Tobiah Paul Steinmetz of Jupiter, Fla., claims that Laguna Beach police acted with negligence when he was shot while exiting a vehicle at the end of a pursuit in March.
(File Photo)

After a man who was shot by Laguna Beach police in March saw his claim against the city rejected last week, the case appears to be headed to court, his attorney says.

Tobiah Paul Steinmetz of Jupiter, Fla., filed a claim on May 2 alleging that Laguna Beach police acted negligently when he was shot while exiting a vehicle following a pursuit that occurred on March 11.

The claim was filed through Guizar, Henderson & Carrazco, LLP, a law firm based in Montebello.

“We have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, so the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner in 1985 that when a police officer uses deadly force against an individual, they need to have a justifiable reason,” said Christian Contreras, Steinmetz’s attorney.

“That reason has to be that the person presents an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, so applying that standard, and even applying Graham v. Connor, which was decided in 1989 by the Supreme Court, Mr. Steinmetz was unarmed, he was exiting a vehicle, and he appeared to be intoxicated, so the officers didn’t have any justifiable reason whatsoever to use deadly force on him.”

Officers had been attempting to make a traffic stop near the intersection of Smithcliffs Road and North Coast Highway at approximately 6:20 p.m. the evening of the incident. Steinmetz then drove off, striking two vehicles with officers in pursuit, authorities said in a news release.

The pursuit crossed over into Newport Beach before Steinmetz turned his vehicle around and headed back into Laguna Beach on Coast Highway. Officers employed a pursuit intervention technique, a maneuver utilized to cause a vehicle to spin out and stop, the statement said.

The release added that Steinmetz “quickly exited the vehicle” and was shot by police. Laguna Beach police Lt. Jim Cota told the Daily Pilot that Steinmetz was taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo to be treated for his injuries. He was said to be in “critical but stable condition” following the incident.

There were no other injuries resulting from the incident, including to the drivers of the two vehicles that were struck during the pursuit.

“[The police] violated Mr. Steinmetz’s, our client’s, Fourth Amendment rights, and we’re suing. Of course, we’re suing,” Contreras said. “This is a grave injustice because this was a person who is a veteran, who is a minister, and the only reason why he was in this situation was because his … prescription meds were off, and he wasn’t thinking clearly.”

Contreras added that body camera video has not been released with respect to the incident.

“It seems like they’re operating in secrecy, so we’ll see what the truth reveals,” Contreras said.

Steinmetz pleaded not guilty to all charges in a court appearance on April 21. He faces felony counts for unlawful taking of a vehicle, evading a peace officer, reckless driving and resisting an executive officer. He has also been charged with a misdemeanor for a hit-and-run incident resulting in property damage.

Orange County District Attorney spokeswoman Kimberly Edds confirmed that if convicted on all charges, Steinmetz faces a maximum sentence of three years and eight months in state prison, plus an additional 180 days in Orange County jail.

Phil Kohn, the city attorney for Laguna Beach, declined to comment for this story.

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