Jury finds in favor of Huntington Beach officers accused of negligence in 2017 shooting
An Orange County Superior Court jury ruled in favor of the officers involved in a 2017 Huntington Beach shooting that resulted in the death of 29-year-old Steven Schiltz.
The verdict puts an end to a long legal battle that began with a $20 million federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Schiltz’s mother, Angela Hernandez, in which she alleged negligence, battery, wrongful death, excessive force and inadequate training of the police officers involved in her son’s death.
The lawsuit named both the city and the officers as defendants.
On March 9, 2017, Officers Trevor Jackson and Casey Thomas responded to emergency calls about a man with a baseball bat and a broken bottle hitting trees and chasing people. Court records indicate that Schiltz was holding a sharpened stick and police said they attempted to talk with him. Schiltz reportedly refused, then ran around the soccer field.
A few people chased Schiltz around the field until officers told them to stop. The city contended that he ignored officers’ commands to drop the stick and approached a woman and her then-6-year-old son before at least three shots were fired.
When it appeared that he was about to strike the woman, the two officers fired on him again.
Schiltz was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Hernandez’s lawsuit stated Schiltz was mentally ill and denied allegations that, at the time of the shooting, he posed any immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury. It also argued that officers did not provide a warning that they were prepared to use deadly force and claimed negligence when officers failed to provide prompt medical care to Schiltz immediately following the incident.
The lawsuit was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford in August 2018 but was later appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The three-judge federal appeals panel then partially overturned a summary judgment by Guilford in 2019 and found there was enough evidence to justify a trial. The claims of battery and negligence were remanded to a lower court.
Those two claims were the focus of the recent trial, which ended on Wednesday with the officers’ being cleared by the jury.
“I am obviously very happy with the jury verdict. I believe they absolutely got it right and they clearly saw our officers were defending the life of a mother and child in this incident,” said Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates, who represented the officers in the case. “I also believe that our Huntington Beach Police Department and our officers did the right thing.
“They took the necessary action. I will also say this was a long five-year legal battle against one of the best plaintiff’s attorneys on these types of cases in the state and it was my pleasure to try the case against him and I’m glad that the city prevailed.”
A request for comment from attorney Dale Galipo, who represented Hernandez, did not receive a response as of press time.
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