PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - Parents who say cops fatally shot their unarmed 19-year-old son more than 100 times argued Friday in front of the Ninth Circuit that their civil rights case should go to trial.
Los Angeles Police Department officers engaged in a high-speed chase with Abdul Arian after he ran several red lights on the night of April 11, 2012, and told a 911 dispatcher that he had a gun, according to court records.
After Arian's car stopped on the 101 freeway in Woodland Hills, he emerged from his car and pointed his cellphone at the officers, who eventually shot and killed him. His family claimed that officers had shot Arian 120 to 150 times and that he had taken out the phone to film the encounter.
The police said they had fired closer to 90 rounds and that Arian had told the operator during the chase that he had a gun and was prepared to use it. No weapon was found in the trunk or car.
Arian's parents Ahmad Shapour Arian and Deena Arian claimed that one of the officers, Robert Luna, could not tell what Arian was holding because he did not have his eyeglasses on.
They sued the city and officials in the summer of 2012 seeking $120 million in damages. The parents later lowered the demand to $25 million.
"By the time Arian fell to the ground, at least three officers had emptied their 16-round magazines," U.S. District Judge Gary Klasuner wrote in a 2013 order. Relying on video evidence, the judge found it reasonable for the officers to believe that Arian was holding a gun and granted them immunity.
At a hearing at the Richard H. Chambers courthouse on Friday, the family's lawyer Kenneth Stern urged the court to reverse the immunity order so that the family can proceed with a jury trial.
"In this case my clients' son is dead today because an officer was too vain to wear his eyeglasses as he had been told twice by a doctor," Stern said.
The Ninth Circuit panel appeared unmoved. Judge Jay Bybee and Judge Stephen Trott noted that there were several LAPD officers on the scene.
"If Luna's the only one involved here, this point would probably be well worth pursuing. But he's not the only one. He's not the only one who shoots," Bybee, a George W. Bush appointee, said. "There's not even any evidence that he was the first one to shoot. There were a lot of shots fired here and it appears they were fired simultaneously."
Stern argued that the officers should have backed off and could have arrested Arian later at home, or "stayed behind the protection of their vehicles."
"A jury could find that this would never have happened," the attorney said.
Bybee suggested that the family would have a hard time getting over the hurdles presented by Klasuner's ruling on immunity.
"You've got to be able to demonstrate that a jury would conclude not only that this was a Fourth Amendment violation but that it was so obvious that no reasonable officer would have behaved in this way. Much less the seven who did," the judge said.
Deputy city attorney Blithe Bock said that, while the case was "very sad," the court should affirm.
"We have a videotape which is undisputed, and undeniably shows exactly what happened and what those officers were facing," Bock said. "I think those videotapes show that a lot had developed. By the time the officers were shooting, Mr. Arian had led them on this high speed chase, had taken a U-turn on the 101 freeway, had jumped out of the vehicle and had pointed a black shiny object at them."
While the object was a cellphone, the officers, "in the heat of the moment, are not going to know that," Bock said.
Trott asked if the case would change if video had been found on Arian's phone.
"You don't look at it through what actually happened or what Mr. Arian was intending. You look at it through the prism of a reasonable police officer that was on that scene in that chaotic night in question," Bock replied.
Arian had run towards a car pulled over by the side of the road, the city attorney said, and police were afraid he would carjack or shoot the occupants.
"It is Mr. Arian himself who created this situation. It's tragic and it's sad. We don't know what was going on in this young man's mind or why he did it," Bock said.
"You can tell a lot by listening to what he told the 911 operator," Trott, a Ronald Reagan appointee, said.
In a telephone interview after the hearing, Stern said the case should be kicked back to the trial court.
"Hopefully my clients will get their day in court, in front of a jury," the attorney said.
The panel took the case under submission. Judge Joseph Jerome Farris joined Trott and Bybee on the panel. In contrast to his colleagues, the Jimmy Carter appointee was largely silent during proceedings.
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