SOUTH GATE — The City Council has asked the Justice Department to investigate the Oct. 20 death of William Sisoyev, a 54-year-old South Gate resident who died after his skull was shattered by blows administered by sheriff's Deputy Thomas Kirk.
The Sisoyev case was the subject of a six-month investigation by the district attorney's office, which last month decided not to prosecute, citing insufficient evidence. The district attorney's office, in a May 17 report, said it could not disprove that Kirk had acted in self-defense. Besides Kirk and Sisoyev, there were no other witnesses to the altercation, the district attorney's report said.
Sisoyev died Oct. 21 at Charter Suburban Hospital in Paramount after blows from Kirk's sap (a metal night stick covered with leather) left the right side of his skull "broken into pieces," according to the district attorney's report. The altercation took place at Sisoyev's home when Kirk visited the man--in violation of Sheriff's Department policies--to discuss an outstanding $171 speeding ticket, according to a South Gate police report on the incident.
The request for a federal civil rights investigation was made in a letter from Mayor Bill De Witt to U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese. The council unanimously approved the letter Tuesday night.
FBI May Investigate
John Wilson, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington, said in an interview Thursday that the agency's lawyers probably would review the case.
"In all likelihood, we would at least ask the FBI to get all the local records and see what it was about," Wilson said. He said such a review would take weeks, and that if an investigation is warranted, it would take months to complete.
In an interview, De Witt said the council requested the federal investigation because, "We feel there are indications that there may have been excessive force used." He added that council members also were concerned about "an inequality of justice."
"If it were you or I who went down there to collect a $171 debt, and the same circumstances occurred, you or I would be facing serious charges," De Witt said.
"If he (Kirk) was an average citizen, he would have been hanged by now," added Councilman Hank Gonzalez.
Kirk on Medical Leave
Kirk refused to be interviewed by the district attorney's office or South Gate police. Kirk, 14 years a deputy, is on medical leave, said Sgt. Irene McReynolds of the Sheriff's Department. Kirk's lawyer, Richard Shinee of Encino, did not return The Times' phone calls.
In his statements on the incident, Kirk told sheriff's investigators that he acted in self-defense after Sisoyev attacked him for no reason.
Sisoyev's daughter, Katherine, who has filed a notice of claim against the county, in an interview called it a "travesty" that the district attorney decided not to prosecute Kirk.
"Deputy Kirk violated my father's constitutional rights," she said. She added that the case is a "manifestation of a growing phenomena by police across the nation, where they are taking the law into their own hands."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Healey said in an interview that "the key question is whether we can disprove he (Kirk) was defending himself, and we concluded we cannot beyond a reasonable doubt."
The following account of Sisoyev's death was given in the district attorney's report prepared by Healey and reviewed by Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Sowders. The report was based on a six-month investigation by the district attorney and included 17 interviews, along with reviews of reports from the city police and the Sheriff's Department, the only agency to interview Kirk.
According to the district attorney's report, two months before the Oct. 20 altercation that led to Sisoyev's death, Kirk had stopped Sisoyev for "erratic driving." He later told investigators that Sisoyev was "hostile and unpleasant."
The deputy then radioed a dispatcher to run a computer check on Sisoyev's license for outstanding warrants. The dispatcher told Kirk the system was not operating, and Kirk let Sisoyev go with a warning. Kirk later that day ran a check on Sisoyev and found the outstanding speeding ticket.
Kirk later told the Sheriff's Department that "perhaps once every week" after he stopped Sisoyev, the deputy would leave his patrol area to drive by Sisoyev's house in South Gate. On Oct. 20, he found Sisoyev at home. He told sheriff's investigators that he was going to arrest Sisoyev.
In later interviews, however, Kirk changed his story and told investigators he merely was going to warn Sisoyev about the outstanding warrant, according to the district attorney's report.
"After his initial antagonistic encounter with Sisoyev, Kirk sought out a second face-to-face confrontation," the report said. "Had he (Kirk) only wished to warn Sisoyev about the arrest warrant, as he later insisted, he could easily have left a note to that effect on Sisoyev's door during one of the earlier visits."