SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The family of a man shot dead by a Northern California police officer settled a wrongful death suit Thursday after a jury found the officer and victim equally negligent in the fatal shooting last month.
Eureka police officer Stephen Linfoot shot and killed Thomas “Tommy” McClain, 22, during a late-night confrontation in the young man’s front yard on Sept. 17, 2014.
Following a week-long trial in McKinleyville last month, jurors found Linfoot not guilty of excessive or unreasonable force but did find him and the city at fault for negligence.
Dale Galipo, the civil rights attorney representing McClain’s parents, said both sides decided to settle the case after the jury verdict to “get this behind them” and avoid post-trial motions and appeals.
“After the verdict was reached, the city agreed to pay the amount of the verdict plus our costs,” Galipo said. “The family wanted some closure so we decided based on the jury award plus costs, the case should be dismissed.”
The city’s insurance company paid McClain’s parents $157,000 to settle the case, according to a joint stipulation for dismissal filed on Thursday.
The jury had awarded McClain’s parents $300,000 in damages, but reduced the award by half after finding McClain 50 percent responsible for the fatal encounter.
U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III, who presided over the trial last month, signed an order dismissing the case with prejudice on Thursday.
Galipo said even though his clients feel the award should have been higher and that Linfoot should have been found guilty of violating McClain’s constitutional rights, they still consider the outcome a victory.
“We still feel it’s a victory,” Galipo said. “We just wish we could have had a bigger victory.”
Galipo described the jury as “somewhat conservative” and said he felt the verdict was ultimately a compromise between some jurors who sided with police and others who felt McClain’s family deserved more money for their son’s untimely death.
McClain’s parents, Lance McClain and Jeanne Barragan, filed the federal wrongful death suit in May 2015. The parents claimed their son had his hands in the air and was complying with orders when Linfoot fired seven bullets, three of which struck and killed their son as he stood in his front yard.
The city claimed McClain was reaching for what turned out to be a BB gun in his waistband and that Linfoot acted appropriately to neutralize a potentially deadly threat.
At a time when police shootings have sparked a national conversation about the use of deadly force, Galipo said civil litigation serves an important role in holding officers accountable and helping to bring about change in law enforcement policies.
“Most of these families feel like I feel – that if what we’re doing can potentially save people’s lives down the line, then it’s worth it, because most families do not want to see this happen to someone else’s family,” Galipo said. “That’s one of the main reasons they bring these cases. They don’t want to have to see someone else bury their son or daughter.”
Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday, but he told the North Coast Journal last month that McClain made “some bad choices” that led to the fatal encounter, and that he felt for the parents and officers who had to endure a difficult trial over the tragic case.
The Eureka City Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a phone call request for comment Thursday afternoon.