A federal court jury has awarded $33.5 million in damages to the parents of a man who was fatally shot by a Southern California sheriff's deputy in November 2015.
The jury found Wednesday that the San Bernardino County deputy unreasonably detained 29-year-old Nathanael Pickett, delayed medical aid and was negligent in use of deadly force. The jury award included $15.5 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages.
"It's the highest verdict that I know of in the country for a police shooting wrongful death case," said attorney Dale Galipo, who represented the family.
Sheriff's officials said the verdict will likely be appealed. A year after the shooting, prosecutors announced that their investigation determined the deputy was legally justified.
"We strongly disagree with the outcome based on the evidence in this case," the department said in a statement. "Our attorneys, the Department and the County, will be discussing appealing the jury’s award."
The shooting occurred outside a motel in Barstow. Security camera video shows the deputy and Pickett struggling outside the room. The county claimed Pickett assaulted Deputy Kyle Woods but plaintiffs' attorney Galipo contended the account was made up.
Attorneys for the county said in a court filing last month that Deputy Woods was patrolling when he saw Pickett looking back at him several times as he crossed a street, and then disappeared. Woods figured Pickett had jumped a fence into the motel parking lot and followed, also jumping the fence, according to the account.
Pickett gave a false name to the deputy, appeared to be under the influence and ran when Woods tried to detain him, the filing said.
A scuffle began and Pickett ended up on top, repeatedly punching the deputy, who felt he was losing consciousness, pulled his gun and told Pickett to stop or he would shoot, the filing said. The county contended Pickett grabbed the weapon and Woods fired.
Galipo used the motel security video and photos of Woods taken shortly afterward to dispute that account. Galipo said Woods had no visible injuries, video didn't show Pickett throwing punches and witnesses didn't see him grab the gun.
"It was a made-up story," Galipo said after the verdict.
Woods continues to work for the sheriff's agency.