A jury has found that a Los Angeles Police Department officer used excessive force in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man and awarded $750,000 in damages to the man's son.
The Los Angeles County Superior Court jury decided last week that Officer Daniel Bunch used unreasonable force when he fatally shot Dontaze Storey Jr., 47, in November 2008 in front of the man's pregnant fiancee.
Jurors acquitted a second officer, Oliver Malabuya.
The shooting occurred after a foot pursuit Nov. 11, 2008, near 3rd Street and New Hampshire Avenue. The chase began after the officers answered a 911 call fora report of assault with a deadly weapon at Rite-Aid in the 300 block of South Vermont Avenue. The officers were warned by radio that the suspect was armed with a gun. The LAPD helicopter directed officers to Storey.
Bunch, a Rampart Division officer, said he opened fire when Storey turned toward him and his partner with a silver-colored object that Bunch believed to be a handgun. Malabuya said he fired after hearing a shot and seeing Bunch discharge his weapon.
The object turned out to a cellphone.
But witnesses testified that they had not seen anything in Storey’s hand. His fiancee, Estaze Yankey, testified that he had nothing in his hand when shot. She threw herself on his body, screaming at officers that they had killed the father of her child, according to attorney Thomas C. Seabaugh, who represented the child. Storey died at County-USC Medical Center.
“Mr. Storey was unarmed, and his only crime was running away from the police,” said Dale Galipo, another attorney for the child.
"Testimony during trial shows that Mr. Storey was shot a final time after he fell to the ground," Seabaugh said.
The jury’s findings contradict a decision by an LAPD civilian oversight panel, which found that the shooting was within department policies. The Los Angeles Police Commission report found that Bunch and Malabuya believed Storey had a handgun and posed a “substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death.”
Bunch told jurors and police investigators he saw Storey take an object that appeared to be a stainless steel handgun from his waistband and point it at him. Bunch fired six times from about seven feet away, and Malabuya fired three times from about 10 feet away.
Malabuya, who had been in the department seven months at the time, indicated he fired after hearing a shot and seeing Bunch open fire. But attorney Seabaugh said Storey’s fiancee and an independent witness testified that Storey had nothing in his hands when shot.
Seabaugh said the testimony and physical evidence showed that Bunch fired a shot that missed far earlier in the foot pursuit, when Storey was clearly running away from officers.
The trajectory of a final and fatal round was from the back of the neck, through the lungs and heart, a medical examiner told jurors, Seabaugh said. The jurors did not award punitive damages.
[For the Record, 12:36 p.m. PST, Jan. 28: A previous version of this post misspelled the first name of Storey's fiancee as Ectaze. It is Estaze.]