LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge indicated Monday she’s likely to advance a wrongful death lawsuit filed against a Los Angeles Police Department officer, saying a jury should determine whether police were justified in killing a Black man who attorneys say was unarmed and posing no threat to anyone.
Police entered a 24 Hour Fitness in Hollywood on the morning of Oct. 29, 2018, after reports of a man causing a disturbance inside the gym.
Once inside, LAPD officers Edward Agdeppa and Perla Rodriguez found Albert Ramon Dorsey standing naked in the locker room and drying himself off.
The facts surrounding the subsequent events that resulted in the fatal police shooting of Dorsey are heavily disputed.
Paulette Smith, Dorsey’s mother, said in her 2019 lawsuit against the city of LA and Agdeppa that officers began assaulting and battering Dorsey immediately after attempting to unjustifiably detain him.
Dorsey was unarmed and posed no threat that would justify Agdeppa firing the bullets that killed Dorsey, according to the lawsuit, which sought funeral and burial expenses and punitive damages determined by a jury.
Responding to the lawsuit, Agdeppa’s attorneys filed for summary judgment, arguing that Smith’s claims were precluded as a matter of law because Dorsey assaulted gym employees and fought with police after refusing their verbal commands to leave the gym.
Dorsey pinned officer Rodriguez to the ground and struck her multiple times, forcing Agdeppa to use “lethal force in an effort to save his partner’s life,” attorneys said in the summary judgment motion.
“While the taking of a life is never preferred, there are circumstances where such drastic measures are necessary to protect the lives of others — this is such a situation,” the motion said.
The LA Police Commission, an appointed civilian oversight panel, determined in September 2019 that the shooting violated LAPD policy. The finding contradicted the assessment of the case by LA Police Chief Michel Moore.
Commissioners said the officers should have deescalated the situation or not have confronted Dorsey on their own to begin with.
Despite the commission’s finding, a July report by LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey determined Agdeppa’s actions were lawful and that the shooting was in self-defense.
Lacey’s report noted Agdeppa suffered a concussion and a laceration to the bridge of his nose and that Rodriguez had swelling on the left side of her face.
Dorsey was found with Rodriguez’s Taser in his left hand and a handcuff on his right wrist, the report said.
In a telephonic hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder heard arguments on whether the facts established so far entitle Agdeppa and the city of LA to judgment as a matter of law. Granting Agdeppa’s motion would strip a jury of its role in determining judgment in the case.
Snyder said she’s inclined to deny summary judgment because the facts presented so far fail to establish a clear justification for Agdeppa’s use of deadly force.
“What we have is an officer who says lethal force was justified by the circumstances and a victim who is dead who can’t dispute it,” Snyder said in the hearing. “I have to work with the circumstantial evidence that is offered.”
The tentative ruling was not publicly available at press time.
Agdeppa’s attorney Kevin Gilbert of Orbach Huff Suarez told Snyder she failed to grasp the undisputed fact that both officers were assaulted by Dorsey and feared for their lives.
“The tentative appeared to focus on factual disputes, whether the officers incurred injuries and whether or not verbal warnings were given,” Gilbert said. “But neither precludes qualified immunity.”
Gilbert opposed Snyder’s determination that a question of fact remains regarding the concussion Agdeppa suffered.
“I don’t believe that fact was ever disputed,” Gilbert said.
“The only other person who was there is dead,” Snyder said, referring to an account of the event that Dorsey can no longer offer. “How do you dispute that?”
Gilbert asked Snyder to review the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Isayeva v. Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, which held that an officer lawfully used deadly force and was entitled to qualified immunity after failing to subdue someone and losing in hand-to-hand combat.
Smith’s attorney Brian Dunn told Snyder summary judgment for the officers can’t be granted at this stage when the evidence presented so far leans so heavily on the officers’ account.
Granting the motion would also set a dangerous precedent, Dunn said.
“That’s not enough for an objectively reasonable use of force,” said Dunn, with the Cochran Firm. “If that logic were followed, anytime any scuffle occurred, and if an officer could prove he had a scratch, he could use lethal force.”
Before the shooting, officers didn’t even have enough information to arrest Dorsey and should have engaged in typical police work instead, including interviewing him and other people involved, Dunn said in court papers.
Dunn also said the officers’ body-worn camera footage shows no active resistance from Dorsey during the attempted arrest and that post-shooting photos of Agdeppa and Rodriguez show no injuries to their faces.
Further, a jury should examine the point in Agdeppa’s deposition where he admits his CAT scan did not reveal any evidence of a concussion, Dunn told Snyder.
“If there are competing interpretations of the facts, that doesn’t mean counsel for opponents decides which interpretation is controlling,” Dunn told Snyder. “The fact that we have these unanswered questions is precisely why we should have this case go to a jury.”
Gilbert told Snyder the fact that Agdeppa incurred a concussion was undisputed.
Snyder took the motion under submission and said she will issue a final ruling in the next week.
Neither Gilbert nor Dunn responded to requests for comment on the tentative ruling.
Dorsey’s family has been a constant presence at LA Police Commission meetings and Dorsey’s name has echoed loudly at the weekly protests outside Lacey’s office that are organized by Black Lives Matter LA.
A spokesperson for Dorsey’s family did not immediately comment on Monday’s ruling.