Headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department in downtown LA. (Courthouse News Photo / Nathan Solis)
LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge said Monday that she is likely to bring a lawsuit against a Los Angeles police officer. A jury should decide whether the police have the authority to kill a black man who lawyers claim is unarmed and poses no threat to anyone.
Police entered a 24-hour fitness facility in Hollywood on the morning of October 29, 2018 after it was reported that a man was causing a disorder in the gym.
Once inside, LAPD officers Edward Agdeppa and Perla Rodriguez found Albert Ramon Dorsey standing naked in the locker room drying off.
The facts relating to the subsequent events that led to the fatal shooting of Dorsey by the police are controversial.
Paulette Smith, Dorsey's mother, said in her 2019 lawsuit against the city of LA and Agdeppa that officials attacked and beat Dorsey immediately after attempting to unjustifiably arrest him.
Dorsey was unarmed and posed no threat that would warrant Agdeppa firing the bullets that killed Dorsey, according to the lawsuit that sought funeral and punitive damages from a jury.
In response to the lawsuit, Agdeppa attorneys moved for a summary judgment, arguing that Smith's claims were legally ruled out because Dorsey attacked gym workers and fought with police after denying their verbal orders to leave the gym .
Dorsey pushed policeman Rodriguez to the ground and hit her several times, forcing Agdeppa to "use lethal force to save his partner's life," lawyers said in the summary judgment.
"While taking on life is never preferred, there are circumstances where such drastic measures are required to protect the lives of others – this is one such situation," the motion said.
The LA Police Commission, an appointed civil oversight body, found the shooting in September 2019 to be in violation of LAPD guidelines. The finding contradicted the assessment of the case by LA Police Chief Michel Moore.
The commissioners said the officers should have de-escalated the situation or not initially confronted Dorsey alone.
Despite the commission's finding, a July report by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey found that Agdeppa's actions were lawful and that the shooting was used in self-defense.
Lacey's report found that Agdeppa suffered a concussion and cut on the bridge of her nose, and that Rodriguez was swollen on the left side of her face.
Dorsey was found with Rodriguez's taser in his left hand and a handcuff on his right wrist, the report said.
In a telephone hearing on Monday, US District Judge Christina A. Snyder heard arguments about whether the facts established so far entitle Agdeppa and the city of LA to a judicial decision. Approving Agdeppa’s motion would deprive a jury of their role in determining the verdict in the case.
Snyder said she was inclined to reject a summary judgment because the facts presented so far do not provide a clear justification for Agdeppa's use of lethal force.
"What we have is an officer who says lethal violence is justified by the circumstances and a dead victim who cannot deny it," Snyder said at the hearing. "I have to work with the evidence that is offered."
The preliminary decision was not publicly available at the time of going to press.
Agdeppa's attorney Kevin Gilbert of Orbach Huff Suarez told Snyder she failed to understand the undisputed fact that both officers were attacked by Dorsey and feared for their lives.
"The reservation seemed to focus on factual disputes over whether officers were injured and whether or not verbal warnings were given," Gilbert said. "But neither does not rule out qualified immunity."
Gilbert defied Snyder's determination that a question of fact remains regarding the concussion Agdeppa suffered.
"I don't think that fact has ever been denied," Gilbert said.
"The only other person who was there is dead," said Snyder, referring to a report on the event that Dorsey can no longer offer. "How do you deny that?"
Gilbert asked Snyder to review the Ninth Circle's decision in the Isayeva sheriff's v. Sacramento division which found that an officer had lawfully used lethal force and was entitled to qualified immunity after failing to subjugate someone and losing them in hand-to-hand combat would have.
Smith's attorney Brian Dunn told Snyder that if the evidence so far relied so heavily on the officers' accounts, a summary judgment cannot be issued for the officers.
Approval of the application would also set a dangerous precedent, Dunn said.
"That's not enough for an objectively sensible use of force," said Dunn of the Cochran Firm. "If that logic were followed, brawls could break out anytime, and if an officer could prove he had a scratch, he could use deadly force. "
Prior to the shooting, officers didn't even have enough information to arrest Dorsey and should have done typical policing instead, including questioning him and others involved, Dunn said in court records.
Dunn also said the officers' body-worn camera footage shows no active resistance from Dorsey during the attempted arrest and that photos of Agdeppa and Rodriguez after shooting show no facial injuries.
Also, a jury should investigate the point in Agdeppa's deposit where he admits his CAT scan revealed no evidence of a concussion, Dunn told Snyder.
"If there are competing interpretations of the facts, it does not mean that the opponents' attorney decides which interpretation controls," Dunn told Snyder. "The fact that we have these unanswered questions is exactly why we should bring this case to a jury."
Gilbert told Snyder that the fact that Agdeppa suffered a concussion was beyond dispute.
Snyder accepted the submitted application and said she would make a final decision within the next week.
Neither Gilbert nor Dunn responded to requests for comment on the preliminary decision.
Dorsey's family was always present at LA Police Commission meetings, and Dorsey's name was played out loud during the weekly protests outside Lacey's office organized by Black Lives Matter LA.
A spokesman for Dorsey's family did not immediately comment on Monday's decision.