PALMDALE – Nearly four years after the original incident, Palmdale teenager William Fetters has been awarded $1.1 million in a case against Los Angeles County, after a jury determined that a deputy used excessive force.
The incident took place on May 10, 2009. A 15-year-old Fetters was riding a bicycle and playing with other children in the area when he was shot by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Sorrow.
Deputy Sorrow claimed in the trial proceedings that Fetters had a realistic looking toy gun which caused him to fear for his life, and the life of his partner.
According to Fetters’ attorney Bradley Gage, Fetters was directed to drop his weapon and complied quickly, but was still shot by Sorrow. A witness on the scene also testified that he did not see Fetters holding the gun when he was shot.
The jury awarded Fetters the full amount of his recoverable medical bills ($2,600), plus $1,125,000 in past and future non-economic damages, according to Gage.
“In addition to the monetary damages, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether Sorrow’s actions were with malice, fraud, or oppression,” said Gage in a press release. A mistrial was declared on that issue and a retrial should be set on April 15, 2013, Gage added.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore says the department disagrees with the verdict and it could be appealed.
Whitmore and the Sheriff’s department are disputing the plaintiff’s account, saying the toy resembled a real handgun and the boy was pointing it towards the deputies at the time of the shooting.
Defense attorney Catherine Mathers said there was no bullet hole found in Fetters’ shirt, and investigators concluded the bullet traveled through the sleeve, supporting the theory that Fetters’ arms were lifted when shot.
Whitmore defended Sorrow’s actions, explaining that the deputy was reacting as he was trained to do. Sorrow is still on patrol duty, according to Whitmore.
Sorrow was also involved in a case that awarded a plaintiff damages back in June 2011. The case involved a former Palmdale apartment manager, Noel Bender, and resulted in a $1.6 million settlement. Read the Bender v. County of Los Angeles County judgement here.
Mention of the Bender case was not allowed at the trial, but could be brought up during the retrial.
Today, Fetters has recovered from his injuries, and is working on completing high school.