A suit was filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday on behalf of a Rialto man who was shot by an off-duty Los Angeles police officer while both were stopped along a freeway center divider.
The complaint, which seeks $500,000 in damages for civil rights violations, contends that self-employed handyman Arthur Binford, 37, was shot three times on April 4 by Officer Scott D. Eckstein after both had stopped their cars near the Baldwin Park Boulevard exit of the San Bernardino Freeway.
Binford sustained gunshot wounds in the chest and abdomen, which perforated his diaphragm and destroyed part of his liver, the suit said.
Los Angeles Police Lt. Charles Higbie, who heads departmental investigations of officer-involved shootings, said Thursday that the incident is still under investigation and declined further comment on the matter.
In an interview Thursday, Binford said he had pulled his pickup truck to the center median of the freeway at about 9 p.m., after Eckstein had tailgated him for several miles and made an obscene gesture to him. Binford, who was accompanied by four passengers, said Eckstein then pulled up behind his truck.
"I left the engine running and walked back to his car," Binford recalled. "That's when he shot me three times, one after the other. He didn't say a word. He didn't even get out of the car. Then he drove away."
A statement issued by Higbie the day after the shooting, however, told a different story:
Eckstein, 23, a patrol officer in the Hollywood Division, was on his way to work when he noticed a pickup truck "swerving from lane to lane, tailgating and traveling at speeds estimated to be in excess of 85 m.p.h"
Binford then pulled in front of Eckstein's car and stopped in the fast lane, blocking traffic, the statement continued. Binford jumped from his truck and ran toward Eckstein's car. The officer ordered him to stop and "believed Binford was under the influence of an unknown substance based upon his bizarre behavior and that he had possibly armed himself with a weapon."
When Binford did not stop, Eckstein fired three shots at him and then drove off the freeway to notify the police.
Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Herb Lapin said Thursday that it could be months before a determination is made whether to file charges against Eckstein, who remains on duty.
"It's a very unusual case," Lapin said. "Mr. Binford doesn't deny that there was some kind of dispute as they were driving down the freeway. Who started the dispute is in question.
"The officer said he couldn't see Binford's hands, so he didn't know what was in them," Lapin said. "And because of the rapid way Mr. Binford was approaching his car, he was concerned for his safety."