The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a nearly $4 million award to a formerly homeless Lancaster couple for a raid by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies that caused the man to lose a leg.
In declining to take up the case involving Angel and Jennifer Mendez, the nation’s highest court upheld an appellate panel’s finding that the deputies were liable for the warrantless raid while searching for a parolee-at-large.
Angel Mendez and his wife sued Los Angeles County eight years ago, alleging excessive force and federal civil rights violations.
The couple were living in a makeshift dwelling in 2010 when they were shot by Deputies Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson, members of the Community-Oriented Policing Unit. Mendez, who was holding a rifle-style BB gun, was critically injured, resulting in the amputation of one of his legs. His wife, who was pregnant at the time, was struck once by a bullet, which shattered her collar bone.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald handed down his ruling for the plaintiffs in Los Angeles federal court in August 2013, awarding $3.8 million to Mendez and $222,000 to his wife, for damages resulting from Fourth Amendment violations by the deputies.
The deputies appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016, unsuccessfully arguing that the dilapidated wooden shack did not appear to be a residence and consequently a warrant was not required.
Affirming Fitzgerald’s finding, the appellate panel determined that the deputies should have known that the shack was occupied, since it was “surrounded by an air conditioning unit, electric cord, water hose, and clothes locker.”
County lawyers then appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the appellate ruling. However, the 9th Circuit upheld the ruling last year, again finding the deputies liable. This time, the Supreme Court declined without comment to consider a further appeal.