Calif. Supremes restore full damages to man killed after police knelt on his neck

There may be a new day dawning for Justice.

The days of cops literally getting away with murder are at long last being scrutinized by the courts.

A man murdered by cops eight years ago in Compton, CA is no longer with us. At least his family has received some Justice.

The California Supreme Court has put down an emphatic marker to these rogue cops.  Cops must behave like decent humans or pay the price.

San Francisco Chronicle – Bob Egelko – 8.10.2020

The family of a man who died after a sheriff’s deputy knelt on his back and neck is entitled to a full damage award from the county that employed the officer, even though the man was found partly responsible for his own death, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Olu Orange, a lawyer for three of Darren Burley’s children, said the ruling “restores one of the most powerful tools Black and brown Californians have in pursuing justice against police officers who kill people they are sworn to protect.”

“California principles of comparative fault have never required or authorized the reduction of an intentional tortfeasor’s liability based on the acts of others,” Justice Ming Chin said in the unanimous ruling, using the legal term for wrongdoer.

In a separate opinion, Justice Goodwin Liu compared the African American man in this case, Darren Burley, to another Black man, George Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis policeman who knelt on his neck in May. That officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder, and three other officers are charged with aiding him. No officers have been charged with crimes in Burley’s death.

Darren Burley II 8.10.2020.jpg

“Variants of this fact pattern have occurred with distressing frequency throughout the country and here in California,” said Liu, joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar.

While the ruling provides “a measure of monetary relief to Burley’s family,” they said, “it does not acknowledge the troubling racial dynamics that have resulted in state-sanctioned violence, including lethal violence, against Black people throughout our history.”

The Supreme Court also noted that President Trump’s administration “has sharply curbed enforcement of existing agreements” reached by President Barack Obama’s administration with numerous police departments requiring court-supervised measures to halt excessive force and racial bias.

Los Angeles County deputies were called to the scene of a reported assault in Compton in August 2012 and said they saw Burley, 29, walking stiffly and growling under the apparent influence of drugs. When a woman shouted that Burley had attacked her, he started chasing her, and officers pursued him and threw him to the ground.

After an exchange of blows, the court said, Deputy David Aviles, who weighed 200 pounds, pressed one knee on Burley’s back and another on the back of his head. A second officer knelt on Burley’s legs, and others shot him with a Taser stun gun. Burley went limp, lost consciousness, and was taken to a hospital, where he died 10 days later.

In a damage suit by Burley’s estranged wife and five children, a jury awarded $8 million in damages for their pain and suffering. Jurors also said Aviles had used unreasonable force and was 20% responsible for Burley’s death, other deputies were 40% responsible and Burley himself was 40% responsible.

A 1986 state ballot measure, Proposition 51, said damages in civil lawsuits based on “comparative fault” would be shared among the responsible parties, with each paying only its share of the fault. The measure did not say whether it applied to all civil suits, but the court said Prop. 51 should not be interpreted to shield intentional wrongdoers from paying 100% of the damages.

A state appeals court, citing Prop. 51, reduced the family’s damages by 40%, or $3.2 million. But the state’s high court said the ballot measure did not relieve an intentional wrongdoer — in this case, Aviles and his employer — of full responsibility for “non-economic” harm such as pain and suffering.

The county’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

The case is B.B. vs. Los Angeles County, S250734.