Man Who Saw Brother's Shooting Sues LA County for Emotional Distress

Judge holding gavel, close-up

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Black man who witnessed his brother being shot by sheriff's deputies investigating a domestic violence call in Lancaster in 2020 is suing Los Angeles County for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

James Thomas, brother of the late 62-year-old Michael Thomas, brought the lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages. An LASD representative could not be immediately reached.

Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department monitor Merrick Bobbs issued a report in 2010 expressing concern about possible racial bias, and a year later the U.S. Justice Department began a pattern-and-practice investigation into racial discrimination by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department toward minorities in the Antelope Valley, the suit states.

The LASD and the Justice Department in 2013 entered into a settlement agreement over racial discrimination in the Antelope Valley, according to the suit.

Last June 11 at about 5:20 a.m., deputies entered the home of Michael Thomas, who was disabled with missing fingers on one hand, the suit states. The deputies said they were responding to a domestic violence incident, even though no such event had occurred and Michael Thomas asked them to leave, the suit states.

However, the deputies accosted Michael Thomas and shot and the unarmed man, who posed no danger to them, the suit states.

James Thomas was present and “witnessed his brother dying,'' the suit states.

Deputies said previously that Michael Thomas' girlfriend called 911 to report the domestic violence incident, but never spoke to the operator. She left the phone line open and several minutes of arguing and fighting between the caller and the suspect could be heard in the background, the department said.

The suspect's girlfriend later gave a recorded statement to deputies in which she confirmed she had placed the 911 call and had been assaulted by the suspect, the LASD said.

“When deputies arrived, they made contact with the suspect inside the location and attempted to detain him for a domestic violence investigation,'' a sheriff's department statement said. “The suspect refused to comply with the (deputies') orders, and an altercation between the deputies and the suspect ensued.

“During the altercation, the suspect reached down and attempted to gain control of one of the deputy's firearm,'' the statement said. “It was at that time when a deputy-involved shooting occurred.''

Thomas died at an area hospital. No deputies were injured.

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