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Family of unarmed shooting victim files claim against L.A. County

Relatives of Darrick Collins, who was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy in Athens, allege poor training and misuse of deadly force.

October 01, 2009|Richard Winton

The family of an unarmed man fatally shot last month by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy filed a legal claim against the county Wednesday, alleging that deputies are poorly trained and routinely use deadly force on people who don't pose any threat.

On Sept. 14, a deputy chased Darrick Collins up his driveway in Athens and into his own backyard, believing he was a robbery suspect. The deputy saw Collins reach for his waistband, causing him to fear that Collins was going for a weapon, sheriff's officials said. The deputy fired at Collins through a wooden gate, fatally hitting him in the back of the neck.

At a news conference Wednesday just a few feet from where her son was shot, Collins' mother, Bernastein Huckaby, told reporters: "I just want justice for him. They took my son's life."

Attorney Randy McMurray, who represents family, said Collins was one of four unarmed men shot by sheriff's deputies in a small part of southeast L.A. County in recent years. Three of those shootings were fatal.

The family's claim with the county is a required precursor to a civil lawsuit.

In the wake of community outrage over Collins' death, Sheriff Lee Baca announced that he planned to examine the way deputies deal with fleeing suspects. He has convened a panel of shooting experts to look into deputy-involved shootings and department tactics. Additionally, he ordered that all investigations into the shootings of unarmed people be completed in 90 days instead of the usual year or more.

"Saying they're going to do it is not enough for this family," said Brian Dunn, another attorney for the family. "The family wants to make sure this type of thing does not happen to another family, to another daughter, to another son, to another community."

Baca has declined a request from The Times to identify the deputy involved.

So far this year, deputies have fatally shot 13 people compared with five from the same period last year, sheriff's officials said. Four of those killed in 2009 were unarmed, said spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Collins, a 36-year-old father of two, had been arrested two weeks before the shooting on suspicion of drug possession and had tablets made with Ecstasy and methamphetamine on him the night he died, officials said.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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