LOS ANGELES (CN) – White Los Angeles County sheriff’s officers killed an African-American man as he tried to crawl to safety, unloading at least 30 shots into his body, his family claims in Federal Court.
As Nicholas Robertson, a 28-year-old father of three, walked by an Arco gas station at Long Beach Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue in Lynwood on the morning of Dec. 12, 2015, two sheriff’s deputies peppered him in a hail of gunfire that lasted 25 seconds.
Graphic video shot with a cell phone from across the street captured the killing. It shows the officers aiming and opening fire from about 10 to 15 yards, Robertson instantly dropping to the ground and his body jumping and flailing with each bullet as he tries to crawl away.
His wife, young children and parents sued Los Angeles County on April 21. They acknowledge that he was carrying a firearm, but say he posed no threat to the officers or the public.
“He did have a gun, but I don’t think he was threatening anyone. He was no threat to the officers,” the family’s attorney Brian Dunn told Courthouse News.
“He didn’t have it out, but it is not illegal to have a gun. He hadn’t injured or shot anyone. The idea that he had a gun is not enough to show that he would definitely be a great threat to an officer or other person. I’m pretty sure we are going to be able to show that this was excessive force.”
The Sheriff’s Department received calls that morning from residents who heard shots fired. They reported a suspect matching Robertson’s description walking the streets with a gun, according to NBC News.
Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Eddie Hernandez said witnesses saw Robertson firing shots, and when officers arrived he turned and pointed the gun at them, and they shot back.
The cell phone video does not show that. It shows him being repeatedly shot in the back as he walked away and then crawled on the ground.
In a Dec. 14 article, the Los Angeles Times described an angry and ranting Robertson walking in and out of traffic, into a pizza parlor, then back and toward the Arco station.
Additional video and still pictures released by the Sheriff’s Department shows deputies shouting at Robertson to drop his gun before opening fire on him. A close-up of the crawling man clearly shows a gun in his right hand as he tries to get away.
But Dunn maintains Robertson was not a threat to anyone.
“The knee-jerk response is that he had a gun and could have shot someone, and therefore the officers were morally justified in killing him,” Dunn said.
“There is no demonstration he was going to kill someone or had the mindset to injure someone, but we can’t interview Nicholas, we can’t talk to him, so it’s just their word.”
The complaint states: “Both prior to and during the time in which he was shot dead, Nicholas Robertson made no aggressive movements, no furtive gestures and no physical movements which would suggest to a reasonable sheriff’s deputy that he had the will or the ability to inflict substantial bodily harm against any individual.”
Robertson’s family says the deputies left him to die.
“Following the shooting, the involved deputies denied medical care to Nicholas Robertson in a manner that demonstrated deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights,” the complaint states. “After surviving for an appreciable period of time following the shooting, Nicholas Robertson died as a direct and proximate result of the gunshot wounds inflicted upon his person.”
It’s one of a raft of white-on-black law enforcement killings that are reverberating across the nation.
“We have seen a lot of evidence that the public is losing patience with this kind of thing,” Dunn said. “I’m seeing it everywhere, not just in street protests, but the approach jurors are taking to these cases.
“It used to be impossible to win these types of cases because people had such trust in their law enforcement, but we are seeing people become more hesitant to believe them. More and more people are using their cell phone cameras.”
Sheriff’s spokesmen were not available for comment over the weekend.
Robertson’s wife Nekesha Robertson, her three minor children and parents-in-law seek punitive damages for wrongful death, civil rights violations and constitutional violations.
Named as defendants are the county and Does 1-10.
Attorney Dunn is with the Cochran Firm California, in Los Angeles.
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