Widow, Children of Slain Firefighter Rebut County's Lawsuit Dismissal Bid

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CHATSWORTH (CNS) - The widow and children of a Los Angeles County Fire Department engineer shot to death by a colleague at the Agua Dulce station in 2021 have responded to a motion by county attorneys to dismiss their case, saying in new court papers that the county and the department were on notice for years of the killer's violent behavior.

The Chatsworth Superior Court lawsuit was brought Jan. 21 by Heidi Carlon, who was married to the late 44-year-old Tory Carlon; her adult daughter, Joslyn Carlon; and Heidi Carlon's two other daughters, who are both minors, alleging wrongful death, negligence and civil rights violations.

Carlon was working at Station No. 81 on Sierra Highway on June 1, 2021, when 45-year-old Jonathan Patrick Tatone, who also was an engineer but was off duty, arrived and an argument ensued, authorities said. Tatone subsequently shot Carlon, who later died, and county Fire Capt. Arnie Sandoval, who survived.

Tatone left for his Acton residence, which he set afire before shooting himself to death. The Carlon family suit names as defendants the county and the estate of Tatone. In her previously filed court papers seeking dismissal of the case, defense attorney Mira Hashmall argues that the county does not have liability due to governmental immunity and workers' compensation rules.

That argument was rebutted in court papers filed Friday by the plaintiffs' attorneys.

"Tatone was an open wound in Fire Station 81, left to fester and infect for years by Los Angeles County Fire Department leadership who chose to ignore, normalize and ratify Tatone's dangerous conduct," the Carlon family members' lawyers argue in their  court papers. "Carlon and others consistently warned the county of Los Angeles that Tatone was unhinged and dangerous."

Tatone's superiors, knowing of his dangerous propensities, spoke to him about his threatening behavior toward Carlon, the plaintiffs' attorneys state in their court papers. Nonetheless,  supervisors of Tatone and Carlon assigned the pair to work together regardless of Tatone's threatening behavior, the Carlon family lawyers further state in their court papers.

While at Fire Station 81, Tatone "demonstrated behavior as a loner, as well as an aggressive, angry, irrational, violent individual (who) could not socially adjust with the other firefighers," the Carlon family attorney state in their court papers. "Tatone needed an outlet for his anger, and it was Carlon."

When Carlon tried to appease Tatone inviting Tatone to his house for a barbecue, Tatone uttered an epithet in front of the other firefighters, the plaintiffs' attorney state in their court papers.

Carlon feared that Tatone would attempt to physically harm him or his family members and began locking the entire house when he left for work, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys, who further state in their court papers that Carlon would also tell his wife to be careful on Tatone's days off in fear that Tatone would come and harm Carlon's family.

"Carlon was so afraid of Tatone that he stopped using the community refrigerator at the fire station and drinking coffee from the community coffee pot out of fear that Tatone would poison his food," the Carlon family lawyers further state in their court papers.

In her court papers, Hashmall states that while her client "expresses its deepest sympathies to the family of Tory Carlon ... this lawsuit does not state any valid claims against the county. The county is not responsible for Tatone's shooting or Carlon's death."

The workers' compensation process is the exclusive remedy when employees are injured or killed at work, Hashmall argues in her court papers.

"Indeed, Plaintiff Heidi Carlon has already filed a workers' compensation claim ... so she cannot argue that workers' compensation does not apply," Hashmall states in her court papers.

Hashmall further states that the county has governmental immunity and that there was "no duty owed to Carlon by the county," which she maintains defeats the family's negligence claim.

A hearing on the county's dismissal motion is scheduled Jan. 9 before Judge Stephen P. Pfahler.

Hashmall also represented the county in a trial of a lawsuit in which a federal jury awarded Vanessa Bryant $16 million and her co-plaintiff $15 million for mental anguish caused by the actions of first-responders who snapped and shared gruesome photos from the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed Laker legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people.

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