Generally, family members may pursue a civil action from someone who caused the death of a loved one. A successful wrongful death claim compensates for expenses incurred from the death and the loss of financial and emotional support. Wrongful death actions generally follow from negligent conduct that causes a fatal accident.
A wrongful death claim is also available in non-accidents, like when someone intentionally takes a life. These cases may appear easier to win, but what happens when law enforcement kills without justification? The story of Eugene Mallory’s shooting death by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shows that obtaining justice does not come easily.
Eugene Mallory was an 80-year-old retired electrical engineer who had a home in the Littlerock community in eastern Los Angeles County. He quietly lived there with his wife Tonya Pate and his stepson. But according to a questionable investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Eugene and his family were manufacturing methamphetamine there.
In the early 2010s, Drug Enforcement Administration raids in the Southern California inland area accounted for about a quarter of all methamphetamine recovered nationwide. So when an anonymous informant told the Sheriff’s Department Eugene was making methamphetamine, they opened an investigation. However, that investigation only entailed a detective surveilling the property and reporting a strong “smell of chemicals” coming from it.
On the morning of June 27, 2013, heavily armed Sheriff’s deputies broke through the gate of Eugene’s property. They approached Tonya with a search warrant and accused her of breaking the law in her home. She and her son complied with the deputies and advised them that her husband was asleep in his room and that he had hearing problems.
Eugene Mallory was found dead on his bed from six gunshot wounds. According to the deputies, they announced themselves and entered the home. They claimed Eugene appeared in a hallway and approached them with a gun in his hand. A deputy said he warned Eugene to “drop the gun” and then shot him when he failed to comply.
But forensic analysis of bloodstains on the mattress indicated the deputy shot Eugene in bed. The deputies identified Eugene’s loaded handgun on the nightstand, but it was never fired. Audio recording of the shooting also diverged from the deputies’ story. It clearly recorded the sound of the deputy’s pistol firing multiple times followed by his command to “drop the gun.”
A search of the property did not uncover evidence of methamphetamine. Deputies discovered two marijuana plants belonging to the stepson, who possessed a medical marijuana license. The Sheriff’s report then described Eugene’s home as a “marijuana-growing operation.”
Tonya’s husband was killed and her home was disparaged as a site for criminal activity. She had to pick up the pieces from this traumatic incident and move forward in life without her companion. Prosecutors declined to criminally charge the deputy who killed Eugene. So Tonya turned to personal injury lawyers for justice.
Her lawyers spoke up for Eugene’s good character and defended his rights. They pointed out the anonymous informant provided false information because of a personal vendetta against Eugene. Her lawyers challenged the basis for the investigation of Eugene’s home in the first place. They accounted for all the violations of constitutional rights that accompanied the reckless raid of the property.
Eugene’s death was the latest and most lethal incident of excessive force recently demonstrated by the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department had a duty to train and discipline its deputies, but instead it tolerated an atmosphere of lawlessness. Tonya’s lawyers wanted the Sheriff’s Department to answer for Eugene’s death. The strong case they built and the negative publicity of law enforcement shooting an 80-year-old with no criminal record induced a settlement to avoid trial.
Money is never an adequate replacement for the loss of a loved one. However, the $1.6 million settlement in this case would provide for Tonya just as Eugene would have if he lived his full, natural life with her. That is the purpose of a wrongful death claim for compensation.
In a fairer world, getting what’s right should be easy. Unfortunately, you cannot expect that from an insurance company or the government. You do not have to fight while you grieve or give in to feeling powerless. Hire reputable personal injury lawyers who share your commitment to justice. You can find them at Sam & Ash. We’re available 24/7 to talk about what happened and plan a path forward. Call now at 702-820-1234.