LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a $2.7 million payout to the parents and three children of a 39-year-old man shot by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop in Santa Clarita.
About 7:45 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2016, Deputy Nathan Gillespie was on patrol without a partner when he spotted a white-and-gray Lexus that matched the description of a vehicle involved in a road rage dispute a day earlier, in which a driver had fired a gun at another motorist.
When the driver of the Lexus, Miguel Hernandez, pulled over near Shangri-La and Nathan Hill drives in Canyon Country, he jumped out of the car and swore at the deputy, according to a summary provided to the board.
“Hernandez was wearing baggy clothing, and had what appeared to be gang tattoos on his head, which was shaved,” according to a report on the shooting prepared by District Attorney Jackie Lacey, which said Hernandez “appeared agitated.”
He also appeared to be hiding his right hand and didn’t respond to multiple orders to show his hands, according to the report, which said when Hernandez “made a sudden `jerking motion’ with his right hand from a concealed position behind his body,” Gillespie believed the driver was drawing a gun and fired. A bullet hit Hernandez in his shoulder and he fell to the ground.
The deputy called for backup and emergency medical services, while keeping Hernandez down with his knee. When a second deputy arrived, the two men searched Hernandez’ waistband for a weapon.
When they didn’t find a gun, the two men “lifted Hernandez off the ground at which point (the other deputy) heard something hit the ground” and recovered a black folding knife with a three-inch blade locked in an open position beneath Hernandez’ right foot, according to Lacey’s report.
They also belatedly discovered a passenger in the back seat of the Lexus. Once that man was detained, paramedics on scene began trying to help Hernandez, who was later taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The gunshot perforated his lungs.
The passenger, a parolee-at-large, was found to be in possession of narcotics and arrested.
Hernandez’ parents sued the county, claiming there was no probable cause to pull their son over and that he was unarmed and simply angry about being stopped for no reason.
A witness who saw the traffic stop said the driver was standing in front of the deputy for about 30 seconds before she heard a gunshot. A second witness said he saw the deputy get out of his patrol vehicle and take three steps towards the Lexus before hearing a gunshot.
That second witness told detectives that Hernandez may have gotten out of the Lexus in an “aggressive” manner that “spooked” Gillespie and caused him to fire on the driver.
The District Attorney’s Office concluded in January 2017 that the deputy acted in self-defense and the Internal Affairs Bureau and Executive Force Review Committee determined that his use of force was within policy, though his tactics were out of policy.
A note on the cause of the shooting cited the deputy’s failure to call for back-up prior to making the traffic stop, despite the description of the vehicle and related assault, and indicated some undisclosed administrative action was taken.
Citing the risks and uncertainties of litigation, county attorneys recommended settlement of the case.