The family of John Winkler – a Washington-born aspiring TV producer shot and killed by Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies in a case of mistaken identity – has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) alleging negligence and violations of Winkler’s basic civil rights.
The suit states that Winkler, 30, was one of three individuals held captive by an armed man inside a West Hollywood apartment. While Winkler helped a severely injured friend who had been stabbed by the assailant, sheriff’s deputies mistakenly shot and killed Winkler as he attempted to escape the apartment.
“This comes down to a case of excessive force from the LASD – a case that resulted in the most appalling situation imaginable,” said Sim Osborn, attorney representing John Winkler’s family. “We believe this suit will help bring restitution to John’s family as they reel from this tragic loss, and will effect change to prevent future instances of excessive force.”
The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of California, asserts that LASD deputies shot and killed Winkler, an innocent and unarmed bystander, while responding to a stabbing and hostage situation in West Hollywood, California, on April 7, 2014. The suit’s defendants include LASD deputies Michael Fairbank, Byron Holloway andGerardo Baldivia, along with 50 unnamed deputies.
Prior to filing the lawsuit, Winkler’s family submitted a claim against the LASD including a damage amount of $25 million for Winkler’s death. The municipality did not respond within 45 days, effectively denying the claim. A jury will now determine the amount of any monetary award.
“My son was helping a wounded friend escape a dangerous situation, but the greater threat was just outside the door in LASD uniform,” said Lisa Ostergren, Winkler’s mother. “This can’t continue. Law enforcement must change the way they approach hostage situations so tragedies like this don’t happen again. We are heartbroken, but determined that John’s story will shed light to stop unnecessary violence.”
The suit states that Winkler was visiting a friend’s apartment with three other friends when Alexander McDonald, a resident of that apartment, began stabbing one of the men. LASD were on the scene after being alerted by other residents of McDonald’s unusual behavior, and when Winkler and one of the other men attempted to escape the apartment, sheriff’s deputies shot them both, killing Winkler and injuring the other man. McDonald was apprehended in the apartment, without the sheriff’s deputies firing a shot, and is currently in jail.
According to Osborn, the LASD had a description and photo of McDonald, who bore no resemblance to Winkler.
“It’s inexplicable – despite receiving a photo of the alleged assailant only moments prior, deputies inconceivably opened fire on two men escaping the scene who looked nothing like McDonald,” Osborn added.
Winkler had recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film and television career after completing his education at the Seattle Film Institute. He had begun work as a production assistant on the popular Comedy Central show Tosh.0.
“John was a dynamic person. He had a very bright future and was so excited about his early successes in LA,” said John McKay, a friend of Winkler’s. “He felt like he was just beginning to make it in the television industry, but that all went away in an instant.”
Winkler’s death is not an isolated incident. In 2010, the rate of unarmed suspects who were shot by LASD officers increased sharply, and LASD has failed to meet even its own standards for scenario-based and firearm training, according to a 2011 report on deputy-involved shootings by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC).
“This instance of a promising and driven young man being shot and killed in a case of excessive police force is unfortunately just a fragment of a larger issue,” Osborn said. “While no amount of money can replace the loss of a life, the LASD must assume responsibility, through monetary penalties and reform, to help prevent the loss of another innocent person.”
The attorneys at Osborn Machler represent plaintiffs in wrongful death, personal injury, products liability and professional malpractice cases. Osborn Machler is noted for taking difficult cases and successfully taking them to settlement or trial. Learn more at www.osbornmachler.com.