LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Los Angeles on behalf of the foster mother and two sisters of an 18-year-old man whose shooting death a year ago by police brought about a rare public release of video evidence by the LAPD.
The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Sept. 29 by Carlena Hall, the foster mother of Carnell Snell Jr., and his sisters, Katrina Snell and Trenell Snell, also names Officer Leovardo Guillen as a defendant.
The complaint’s allegations include wrongful death, negligence, assault, battery and civil rights violations. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said his office has not yet received the lawsuit.
The Los Angeles Police Commission previously ruled that officers were justified in using deadly force in the shooting. But despite clearing the officer who shot the young man, the police commissioners faulted some of the tactics used by officers involved in the chase that ended with the Oct. 1, 2016, shooting at 107th Street and Western Avenue.
Snell was a passenger in a Nissan that police tried to stop for having paper plates that did not match the year of the car, prompting officers to suspect it may have been stolen, police have said. After Snell ran from the car, Guillen and other LAPD officers began to chase him on foot.
Security video of the chase, taken from a nearby business, showed Snell running with his left hand in a sweatshirt pocket, and at one point removing his hand to reveal a handgun. He held the gun at his side briefly, then tucked it in his waistband, turned and ran away from the camera, out of sight, with officers in pursuit.
Snell was shot when he turned toward Guillen and the other officers with the gun in his hand, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and authorities said a .40-caliber handgun was recovered a few feet from his body.
But the lawsuit alleges Snell was unarmed, posed no threat to the officers, and that they were negligently trained and retained.
Snell’s relatives have suffered severe mental anguish because of his death, according to their complaint.
In the days after the shooting, activists held protests at the scene, outside Mayor Eric Garcetti’s residence in Hancock Park and during a Police Commission meeting in which three people were taken into custody for resisting arrest.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers, issued a statement after the commission’s ruling, saying: “When an armed suspect points a gun at a police officer, that officer must act to protect themselves and members of the public.”
The shooting occurred when tensions between local activists like members of Black Lives Matter and the LAPD were extremely high.
Melina Abdullah, a leader in Black Lives Matter, spoke outside LAPD headquarters a few days following the shooting and said, “I don’t care if he had a gun. I don’t care. He wasn’t shooting at them.”
Garcetti said at the time, “Any officer-involved shooting is a tragedy, with consequences that demand thoughtful consideration. The third-party videotape evidence … contributes to transparency in a case that has raised many hard questions.”
The release of surveillance tape of the shooting, which supported LAPD officers’ reports, was cited by another local activist as a prime reason to release all videos of police-involved shootings.
“The quick release of the Snell slaying videotape within days after the shooting is the best argument against LAPD officials contention that tapes can’t be released immediately,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. “Video tapes, whether they support or contradict the police version of a controversial shooting, can and must be released promptly to assure transparency and restore public trust in the impartiality and integrity of investigations.”