Jurors award mom nearly $24M after finding 2 LAPD officers negligently shot her son to death
A 2019 state law banned PDs from justifying shootings with reasonableness; now, they must prove their actions were "necessary" for self-defense or defending others
By Josh Cain
Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.
LOS ANGELES — Jurors awarded a Canoga Park mother more than $23 million last Friday when they found that a pair of Los Angeles Police Department officers wrongly killed her son in a 2017 shooting near their home.
The federal jury found the two officers from LAPD's Topanga Division used excessive force and were negligent in the killing of Jesse Murillo, a 32-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who was running away from them when they fired.
Murillo died after he was shot four times, including one round that struck him as he was diving to the ground, said Dale K. Galipo, the family's attorney.
The verdict contradicted a Los Angeles Police Commission review of the case. Months after the shooting, the commission cleared both officers in Murillo's killing, ruling that neither violated LAPD policy. Neither officer was disciplined except for undergoing a debrief on their tactics, according to commission records.
In 2020, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to file any charges against the involved officers, saying they were "legally justified" in firing their weapons at Murillo.
In their report on the shooting, prosecutors noted that Murillo "sprinted in the direction of" an officer while holding what the officers reasonably believed was a machete but wound up being a metal tool. Galipo's lawsuit disputed that finding.
"There's no accountability for these officers," Galipo said Monday, Aug. 28 outside the U.S. Courthouse in Downtown L.A.
"They're not prosecuted. They pay no money out of their own pocket. And the department, like they did in this case, ratifies the shooting, saying that was good, that was OK."
The $23.8 million judgment awarded to Murillo's mother, Tammy, is likely one of the largest in LAPD history for a single shooting case, Galipo said.
The jury deliberated for only four hours before they gave her the maximum possible amount they could: Court records showed they awarded Tammy Murillo alone $12 million for her son's wrongful death. They also awarded Jesse Murillo $6.5 million for his pre-death pain and suffering and another $5.3 million for his death, all to be paid to his mother.
That amount nearly matched a massive settlement paid out by the California Highway Patrol earlier this year to the family of Edward Bronstein, a Burbank man who died when CHP officers dog-piled him at their Altadena station following a traffic stop. The CHP agreed to pay his family $24 million after a judge ordered video of stop to be released.
Galipo, who has tried dozens of excessive force cases by local police departments over the last 20 years, said he believed large payouts like those to the families of Murillo and Bronstein could become more common because of the greater availability of video footage of police shootings.
Asked if he thought the verdict in Murillo's case would have been possible before body cameras became somewhat standard among police departments, he was unequivocal.
"No," he said. "Not of this magnitude. The body-worn camera footage captures not only the shooting — but this is the key, what happened before and after."
The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the judgment Monday. A spokeswoman for the Police Commission declined comment.
The shooting occurred in an alley near Strathern Street, about one block from the Murillos' De Soto Avenue home.
Officers Fred Sigman and Christopher Montague were driving to the area after hearing a call about a domestic disturbance at the home. Another officer had already responded, and saw Jesse Murillo run outside wearing a gas mask and holding a pull bar. That officer radioed others nearby saying he believed Murillo had attacked family members inside with a machete.
Sigman and Montague turned onto Stathern and positioned themselves at the south end of the alley, where they saw Murillo walking in their direction. As soon as he saw them, the officers said, Murillo broke into a sprint. Both officers jumped out of their car and unholstered their pistols.
In the commission report of the shooting, Sigman and Montague are only referred to as officers "B" and "C." According to that report, as the officers stood behind the doors of their car, they believed Murillo shifted his movement as he was running in order to get around the passenger side door and attack officer B.
Once Murillo got within 14 feet of officer B, both fired.
The officers told the commission they believed when Murillo changed course, he was trying to "go wide" or "outflank" them around the passenger side door.
But Galipo said the officers' body cameras showed Murrillo was turning from them as he tried to run past them. The jury agreed.
The commission ruled at the time that the officers' actions were reasonable given they feared being attacked.
That reflected the standard for legal uses of deadly force in California at the time. But in 2019, state lawmakers banned police departments from using reasonableness as a justification for shootings — now, officers must show their actions were "necessary" to defend themselves or others from imminent threats of harm.
Galipo blamed the culture of police departments for continued examples of unjustified shootings resulting in large settlements.
"I think most officers feel, if they feel any fear, any threat to them, it's OK to start shooting, thinking that everyone will support their view," Galipo said.
"To this day I think officers are surprised that people look at their body-worn camera footage and come to a different decision than they do, or their department does, or the (District Attorney's office) does."
Tammy Murillo's version of the incident also differed from LAPD's. At the time, she told the Southern California News Group that the 9-1-1 call was over a fight between her son and her daughter's fiance that escalated.
In 2017, she said Murillo had struck the fiance on his arm. She said he was wearing a gas mask after doing duct work underneath the home.
She said Monday she took LAPD to court, even through a jury trial, because she wanted to correct the police narrative of how he died.
"My son never rushed them," she said. "I felt that I had to pursue this. I miss my son very much. He was an amazing young man."
City News Service contributed to this story.
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