A woman whose late boyfriend was fatally shot in his living room by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies investigating a 2020 domestic violence call in Lancaster waited too long to file a legal damages claim for her emotional distress, a judge ruled Friday.
Plaintiff Kimberly Smith maintained in court papers filed Dec. 2, 2021, in Los Angeles Superior Court that she should be legally excused from not having met the statute of limitations when she filed her claim against the county last June instead of meeting the deadline of December 2020. Smith maintains she suffered emotional distress from witnessing the shooting of the Michael Thomas, who was in a 22-year relationship with Smith.
“This case arises out of tragic circumstances,” wrote Judge Lawrence P. Riff, who nonetheless concluded Smith did not have a sufficient reason for failing to file the claim — a forerunner to a lawsuit — on time.
“First, plaintiff offers no admissible evidence with her petition to support her excusable neglect claims,” the judge wrote, adding that Smith “merely makes generalized contentions … to explain why she did not present a claim with the county sooner.”
The judge also concluded that Smith’s sworn declaration gave only broad-based statements about how she tried to obtain the names of the involved sheriff’s deputies or how the shooting negatively affected her sleeping, eating and hearing. Smith additionally did not provide enough information to support her contention that she was unable to find a lawyer to take her case until last October, according to Riff.
A claim must be brought within six months. The County Counsel’s Office rejected the woman’s claim because of the late filing.
Smith’s petition states that on June 11, 2020, she accidentally dialed 911 and did not say anything to the operator who answered. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrived at the couple’s home on West Avenue H12 about 5:50 a.m. and asked to come inside, but the 62-year-old Thomas said the 911 call was a mistake and told them they could not enter without a warrant, the petition states.
The deputies eventually broke through the door, and during an ensuing scuffle, Thomas was shot by one deputy while two others were restraining him, according to the petition. The same deputy who shot Thomas pointed a gun at Smith and told her to back away, the petition alleges. Thomas later died at a hospital. Smith suffered emotional distress as a result of witnessing both the shooting of Thomas as well as the gun being pointed at her, the petition states.
In her proposed lawsuit, a copy of which was attached to her court papers, Smith says she wanted to sue the county, the LASD and four deputies for civil rights violations, unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force, assault, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Thomas’ brother, James Thomas, who also witnessed the shooting, previously filed a separate suit against the county that is still awaiting trial.
In their version of events, sheriff’s officials said previously that Smith called 911 to report a domestic violence incident, but never spoke to the operator. She left the phone line open and several minutes of arguing and fighting between the caller and the suspect could be heard in the background, according to the sheriff’s department. Smith later gave a recorded statement to deputies in which she confirmed she had placed the 911 call and had been assaulted by the suspect, sheriff’s officials said.
“When deputies arrived, they made contact with the suspect inside the location and attempted to detain him for a domestic violence investigation,” according to a sheriff’s department statement. “The suspect refused to comply with the (deputies’) orders, and an altercation between the deputies and the suspect ensued.”
During that altercation, Thomas allegedly “reached down and attempted to gain control of one of the deputy’s firearm,” prompting the shooting, sheriff’s officials said.
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