Mother of Navy Vet Killed by LA Police as He Held a Metal Bar Will Receive $24 Million

by Braxton Taylor

LOS ANGELES — The 32-year-old Navy veteran was holding a metal bar. L.A. police thought it was a machete. They shot Jesse Murillo to death.

Now the mother of the Canoga Park man will collect $24.45 million from the city of Los Angeles.

The settlement — approved Tuesday by the L.A. City Council — marks the final chapter in a shooting that the county district attorney’s office decided in 2020 was legal. The Police Commission also determined that the use of deadly force was within LAPD policy.

But in August, a federal jury unanimously awarded Tammy Murillo $23.8 million and found that Officers Fred Sigman and Christopher Montague used excessive and unreasonable force in shooting her son. That award was one of the largest against the LAPD in department history.

The deadly incident unfolded two days before Christmas 2017.

Police went to Murillo’s Canoga Park home about 7:15 p.m. after a 911 call of a family disturbance — Murillo was said to be involved in a physical altercation with his sister and had put her fiance in a headlock.

The officer who was first on the scene reported: “Officer needs help. Man armed with a machete.”

He believed was Murillo was wearing a gas mask and holding a machete and hammer. Later evidence would show he was holding neither item but had in his hand a 16.5-inch pull bar.

Sigman and Montague arrived to back up the first officer, and the fatal shooting occurred. The two maintained that they shot Murillo because they believed he was running in their direction while holding a hammer in his right hand and what they believed to be a machete in his left hand, causing them to fear for their lives, according to the review by the district attorney’s office.

At the scene on Strathern Street, just west of De Soto Avenue, police found a hammer in Murillo’s pocket and the pull bar beside his body.

According to the lawyer who filed the case, Murillo tried to run away when he saw Sigman and Montague’s police cruiser in the street at the end of the alley. As he ran, he made a sharp left turn and ran east on the sidewalk, the lawyer said.

The Murillo family attorneys told jurors that Sigman and Montague fired seven shots at Murillo from the street without giving him adequate warning or time to comply. Four of those shots hit Murillo. They presented evidence at trial that showed the trajectory of the shots indicated that Murillo was not running directly at the officers but away from them when he was hit.

At least one of the shots was fired as Murillo was going to the ground, attorney Dale Galipo said, showing jurors video of the incident and a trajectory analysis of the bullets. Some of the officers’ stray rounds hit a nearby garage, a truck and a fence.

According to the district attorney’s account of the deadly encounter, Murillo was about 50 feet from Sigman when he rushed toward him while holding the pull bar above his head. Sigman said he yelled, “Hey, stop!” and fired the first shot when Murillo got within about 22 feet.

Sigman fired five rounds from his 9-millimeter pistol, and Montague fired two shots from his .45-caliber handgun. As they fired, Murillo ran “eastbound along the sidewalk adjacent to their police car before falling to the ground,” the district attorney’s office stated.

In concluding that the officers acted lawfully in shooting, a deputy district attorney in 2018 found that Murillo did run toward Sigman but then veered — a slight change of direction in a rapidly evolving incident that still justified the shooting as self-defense, since it was reasonable to believe Murillo had a machete given the other officer’s radio call and because the pull bar would have caused severe injury.

The Los Angeles Police Commission found in 2018 that the lethal use of force was within department policy, although the commissioners questioned the tactics of the officers and found the incident warranted a “tactical debrief.”

After he was shot on Dec. 23, 2017, Murillo was conscious and speaking, but he later died from his wounds at a hospital.

In determining their verdict in August, jurors agreed with Galipo and co-counsel Maro Burunsuzyan’s argument that using deadly force was unnecessary, as the situation was not immediately life-threatening to the officers or anyone else.

The jury awarded $6.5 million in pre-death pain and suffering, $5.3 million for loss of life, and $12 million for wrongful death damages to Tammy Murillo.

The settlement comes as a burgeoning number of cases are moving through the courts connected to LAPD allegations of misconduct. According to City Controller Kenneth Mejia’s tracking of payouts, from fiscal year 2020 to 2023, the city covered more than $125 million in claims against the LAPD.

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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