The family of a tow truck driver who was killed during a police shooting in July filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, alleging that the Los Angeles police officer who fired the shots was inspired by "malice and racial animus."
The lawsuit alleges that John L. Daniels' civil rights were violated when he was shot and killed July 1 by motorcycle Officer Douglas Iversen at a gas station at Florence Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.
Iversen, a 15-year veteran, told authorities he shot Daniels after the tow truck driver refused an order to stop his truck and began to pull away. The officer said he fired the shots because he feared that Daniels was about to run over pedestrians.
The shooting, less than two miles from a flash point of the Los Angeles riots, attracted an angry crowed of more than 200 people, some of whom shouted obscenities at police. Daniels was black; the two motorcycle officers involved in the shooting, Iversen and Patrick Bradshaw, 28, are white.
Witnesses said Daniels did not pose a threat to anyone. Police sources and one witness reported soon after the incident that Bradshaw turned to Iversen moments after the shooting and said: "What did you do that for?"
The suit was brought by Daniels' wife, Michelle, his two children, Kendall, 18, and Janorey, 14, of Inglewood and his mother, Theresa. The family is represented by Steven A. Lerman, who was handling the federal civil rights case of Los Angeles police beating victim Rodney G. King until King retained another lawyer.
"It's tragic," Lerman said. "One stupid, senseless act has caused the family so much grief. To execute this guy in this fashion has caused the family so much anguish and pain."
The incident was an important first test for new Police Chief Willie L. Williams. Police officials said an internal departmental investigation, expected to be concluded in the next few weeks, will include recommendations on whether the police shooting was within policy. The district attorney's office is also investigating the shooting to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also launched a preliminary investigation to determine if Daniels' civil rights were violated. The results of the FBI investigation will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to determine whether the case will be prosecuted.
"Race was definitely an issue," Lerman said. "Daniels was a black man, an African-American shot by a white police officer."
Lerman said the city and Police Department share the blame for what he described as inadequately trained officers. "Too many officers perceive (that) their acts of excessive force will not be disciplined," he said. "There is a code of silence."
Iversen has a history of disciplinary problems, ranging from improperly registering property to employing police computers for personal use, records show. "The department should have known he was easily provoked," Lerman said. "They could have done something to prevent this, by transferring Iversen someplace else. He was easily provoked."
According to police, Daniels had a long history of arrests and was considered a career criminal. His father, John L. Daniels Sr., was shot to death by police in 1985. Family members insist that the shooting was part of a deadly campaign of harassment against them.
"Time will heal things, but things are tough right now," Lerman said. He said Daniels' children are in counseling and his wife, Michelle, has developed physical ailments since the shooting.