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City is sued over two deaths

In neither case were the lives of the Riverside officers who fired the shots in danger, says the lawyer filing the claims.

February 06, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

A prominent Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney filed two wrongful-death lawsuits against the city of Riverside on Monday in the shooting deaths of two unarmed men.

Brian Dunn, an attorney with the law firm founded by the late Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., filed the lawsuit in District Court, alleging that the civil rights of Lee Deante Brown and Douglas Steven Cloud were violated when they were shot last year by Riverside police officers.

"We believe that both of these deaths were unnecessary," said Dunn, who also represented the family of 13-year-old Devin Brown in a highly publicized wrongful-death suit against the city of Los Angeles.

"They're indicative of a pattern of excessive force," he said. "In both of these situations, they did not pose a threat to the officers that justified a use of deadly force."

The lawsuits were filed in Riverside on behalf of the families of Brown and Cloud, and did not specify monetary damages. The police officers involved in the shootings are named in the lawsuits.

Steven Frasher, a Riverside police spokesman, referred all inquiries to the city attorney. Phone calls to City Atty. Gregory Priamos were not returned.

Riverside police officials said that in both fatal incidents, the officers said they fired because they feared for their lives.

Brown, 30, was killed in April by officers after he allegedly grabbed one of their Taser stun guns.

He had been seen "screaming, exposing himself and jumping on cars" outside a Riverside motel before the incident, according to a police statement.

Officer Terry Ellefson fired when Brown allegedly knocked the Taser from his hand, picked it up and lunged at him. At least six witnesses to the shooting said Brown was not holding the stun gun when shot, according to a police review commission report.

"Even if it somehow had been true, [the Taser is] not going to kill you," Dunn said. "And the statement that he somehow grabbed the Taser is contradicted by witnesses."

Douglas Steven Cloud, 27, was killed in October by officers after he allegedly stole a carpet cleaner from a Home Depot.

Customers and employees chased Cloud to the store's parking lot, but he reached his car and sped off, witnesses said. He lost control of the car a short distance away, skidding into a pickup truck.

According to the three officers involved, Cloud refused to respond to orders as they walked toward the vehicle with their guns drawn. When one of the officers tried to pull him out of the window, Cloud allegedly jerked himself free and hit the accelerator while turning the steering wheel side to side in what police believed was an attempt to get away.

After allegedly seeing him reach continually toward the front-seat console, officers David Johansen and Nicholas Vasquez combined to shoot Cloud four times, killing him. He was unarmed.

"Their response is always the same," Dunn said. "They always say the officer was in fear of his life. But the facts show there is no reasonable basis to feel that these individuals were going to create a substantial risk to them."

Early last year, the Riverside Police Department fulfilled its court-ordered reforms prompted by the controversial shooting death of Tyisha Miller in 1998.

The reforms were ordered after Miller was shot to death by officers who saw her passed out in a car with a gun on her lap. A state investigation revealed widespread civil rights violations by police officers and concluded that the department had failed to uniformly enforce the law.

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