Jury awards $3.4 million to parents of man killed by sheriff’s deputy in Yorba Linda, finds officer used excessive force
A Los Angeles jury on Monday awarded $3.4 million to the parents of a man shot and killed by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy outside a Yorba Linda motel in 2016.
The same jurors in federal court last week found that Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Petropulos used excessive force during his fatal encounter with 39-year-old Brandon Lee Witt in the parking lot of an Extended Stay America motel.
“We are very pleased with the verdict,” said attorney Dale K. Galipo, who represented Witt’s parents, Gary Witt and Kathy Craig, in their lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “We felt all along the shooting was unjustified.”
Orange County officials said they were disappointed at the verdict, and planned to review the ruling.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which reviews shootings involving officers, previously found that the deputy was justified in shooting Witt, contending that Witt was reaching for a weapon and the deputy was being dragged by Witt’s vehicle.
According to the DA’s report, deputies responding to reports of a suspicious vehicle believed that Witt had stolen the car. The report determined that Witt ignored orders to keep his hands in plain sight, instead reaching under his seat and around the car.
The deputy drew his gun, according to the DA report, then grabbed Witt by the wrist when he put his hands out of the vehicle, near the driver’s side mirror.
DA investigators said Witt pulled the deputy partway into his car, accelerated, and used his free arm to rummage around the interior of the vehicle. The deputy shot Witt in the chest, causing him to crash into a nearby drainage ditch. He was later found to have amphetamines in his system.
The lawsuit disputed the altercation described in the DA report. The complaint alleged that an unarmed Witt, an Orange County resident, was sitting inside his vehicle when the deputy shot him. Galipo said a recording of the events leading up to the shooting provided evidence that the deputy had lost his temper while dealing with Witt.
Galipo said that for Witt’s parents the monetary award was secondary.
“To them the biggest victory was that a jury found (the deputy) used excessive force,” the attorney said.
The verdict marks the second time in recent years that Galipo has convinced a jury that an Orange County law enforcement agency used excessive force in a high-profile officer involved shooting. In 2017, Galipo represented the family of Manuel Diaz, who were awarded $200,000 by jurors who found an officer used excessive force in a 2012 shooting that helped ignite riots in Anaheim.