Police use of excessive force results in wrongful death recovery

ON April 27, 2014, in Compton, CA, L.A. County sheriff’s deputies were called to a Target store, where a theft was allegedly occurring. Police arrived at the scene and confronted 36-year old Jason Conoscenti. Conoscenti had a pair of scissors and apparently threatened the officers with it. He then fled in a vehicle, and was pursued by the sheriff’s deputies all the way to Long Beach.
At some point, Long Beach police officers joined the pursuit of Conoscenti, who by mid-afternoon, had come to a stop near a road that had access to the beach. Conoscenti initially stayed in his car and ignored police orders to get out. About 15 minutes later, Conoscenti did get out of his car, allegedly holding a large wooden stick, still refusing to follow police orders to stop. Instead, Conoscenti ran to the stairs that led down to the beach.
The sheriff’s deputies shot Conoscenti with non-lethal bean bag rounds to stun him but he apparently kept running. A police dog was also deployed to chase Conoscenti. At around this time, Long Beach Police, who were on the beach, heard what they thought were gunshots (but which were the bean bag rounds being deployed). They claimed they could not see the stairs and thought the sheriffs and Conoscenti were engaged in gunfight. Long Beach police said they saw Conoscenti reach into his waistband and thought he was reaching for a gun. They shot him a total of 10 times, claiming they believes their lives were in danger. Bleeding from multiple wounds, Conoscenti was handcuffed, and later taken to the hospital, where he died.
Conoscenti’s next of kin sued the City of Long Beach for wrongful death and excessive use of force. In the course of the litigation, a video of the incident taken by a bystander was made public. The video showed Conoscenti running to the stairs, his hands in the air, being chased by the police dog. The police dog nearly had him down when he was shot multiple times by police. The video showed Conoscenti getting shot, falling down into the sand, both his hands flailing in the air.
Conoscenti’s family argued that he was unarmed at the time of the shooting. The video showed that he did not reach his hand into his waistband as alleged by the police. He was in fact holding the railings leading to the stairs as he was running. He was about to be tackled and bitten by the police dog when officers shot him multiple times.  More gunshots were fired at him while he was already on the ground. He eventually bled to death.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a person’s right to be free from unreasonable use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. The police owes a duty to use reasonable care in deciding to use deadly force. The “reasonableness” standard simply asks: Are the officers’ actions “objectively reasonable” in light of the circumstances confronting them? This means that a police officer may use deadly force only if he has a reasonable belief there is an immediate risk that the person being detained will cause death or serious bodily harm.
If someone dies as a result of an officer’s excessive use of force in violation of that person’s civil rights, the heirs of the decedent may be entitled to recover monetary damages for loss of financial support, medical and funeral expenses, and for the loss of love, companionship, care, assistance, protection, affection, and moral support that the decedent provided during his/her lifetime. The heirs may also be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs.
Conoscenti’s family claims that the police’s use of deadly force was excessive, unreasonable, and was not necessary under the circumstances.  They pointed out that he did not injure anyone or was attempting to injure anyone at the time that he was running away. The video clearly showed that he was not holding a weapon and was clearly not an immediate threat to his pursuers.
Rather than continuing the case to trial, the City of Long Beach settled Conoscenti’s family’s claims for $2,000,0000.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. 

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C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully obtained significant recoveries for thousands of employees and consumers. He is named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently Aselected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a member of the Million Dollar-Advocates Forum. 

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