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Claim Filed in Fatal Shooting by Deputies

Family seeks more than $25,000 in damages from Ventura County and the city after the death of a mentally ill Thousand Oaks man, 19.

October 07, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

The family of a mentally ill Thousand Oaks man who was shot and killed this spring by one or more Ventura County sheriff's deputies has filed a wrongful-death claim against the county and city.

Stephanie Noelle McDonough seeks more than $25,000 in damages in the death of her 19-year-old son, James Hanlon McDonough Daniels. Deputies say they shot Daniels as he approached a crowd at a Thousand Oaks swim school April 8 shortly after he was seen cutting himself with a knife.

The claim, the first step before a civil lawsuit is filed, states the county has refused to release the names of any deputies involved in the shooting.

Stephanie McDonough and her father "have a lot of questions about what happened," said Brian R. Magana, the family's attorney. "They want to know how a boy who was known to the Sheriff's Department as having problems, how things escalated to a point where he was shot."

Magana said the claim was filed last week to beat a six-month deadline, but he added that a decision on whether to file a lawsuit won't be made until more information is revealed about the details surrounding Daniels' death.

"If he really was a threat to others, [his family] would really understand why police had to go to lethal force," he said. "But ... they don't think he's ever been a threat to strangers or would be that violent."

Because Thousand Oaks contracts with the sheriff for police services, both the city and county were named in the claim. But Assistant City Atty. Tim Giles said the agreement calls for county lawyers to defend the city for any actions by deputies.

Attorney Alan Wisotsky, who often represents local law enforcement agencies in cases of officer-involved shootings, said it's very likely the wrongful-death claim will become a lawsuit. And the search for answers, he said, extends beyond Daniels' family.

The district attorney's office is still investigating the shooting to determine whether it was justified. A report is not expected for another month or more.

"The deputies, I'm sure, are just as anxious to have an answer from the district attorney's office -- have they been exonerated or are they facing criminal charges?" Wisotsky said. "But that in no way minimizes the grief that the family feels about the uncertainty of what happened."

At the time of her son's death, Stephanie McDonough said he suffered from bipolar disorder and psychosis. She said he had been diagnosed with an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression at age 5.

Last November, according to court records, McDonough asked authorities to remove her son from her apartment and sought a restraining order against him.

Sheriff's officials wrapped up their internal investigation about two months after the shooting and forwarded the results to the district attorney.

Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Patricia Murphy said the attorney handling the case, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox, submitted a draft report a week ago, which ultimately will be reviewed by Dist. Atty. Greg Totten before the results are released. If the shooting is ruled unwarranted, Murphy said the office must determine if there is enough information to prosecute.

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