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Mother Of Mentally Ill Black Man Killed By L.A. Sheriff's Deputies Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

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(Photo courtesy of Janet Williams)
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Last year, at the age of 41, Dennis "Todd" Rogers moved from Indiana to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. Like 18.2 percent of American adults, Rogers suffered from mental health issues, but he was "fine most of the time, as long as he took his medication," his mother, Janet Williams, said in a radio interview with KPCC on Monday.

On March 7, 2017, Rogers, a black man, was fatally shot by L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies outside a 24 Hour Fitness in Ladera Heights. Now, Williams is filing a civil rights lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department and the County, alleging deputies had unnecessarily shot her son based solely on the color of his skin and his mental condition.

According to an L.A. Times Homicide report, Rogers was reported to management at the 24 Hour Fitness gym in Ladera Heights, where he had taken out a membership, for allegedly harassing other members. Deputies were called to escort Rogers from the gym, but Rogers never left the area. When deputies were called back to remove him, Rogers "became belligerent"; deputies shot Rogers with a Taser, to no effect. Rogers took out "metal electric hair clippers with a long cord" from his backpack and swung them at an unnamed deputy, who then fatally shot him in the upper torso.

Williams' lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against the county and the Sheriff’s Department, as well as punitive damages against the unnamed deputies for loss of companionship. The suit claims deputies reacted improperly by shooting to kill, and accuses the county and the Sheriff’s Department of failing to adequately train and supervise deputies to deal with people who suffer from mental illness.

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The L.A. County Sheriff's Department has come under scrutiny for its violence toward mentally ill civilians, from last year's fatal shooting of John Berry, a Lakewood man suffering from schizophrenia, to the killing of mentally ill Skid Row resident Charley Keunang in 2015. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department declined to comment on pending litigation, noting in a statement that deputies at the scene of Rogers' death called a Mental Evaluation Team (MET) for assistance. There are currently 10 MET teams countywide, and the Sheriff's department says it is waiting on additional funding to increase that number.

Williams told KPCC that Rogers called her in March, a few days before the shooting, and told her he was having trouble getting the money together to pay for the medication he used to treat his mental illness.

"I filed this lawsuit to focus attention on the plight of the mentally ill and to do my part to help protect the mentally ill and black men in America who are routinely killed by law enforcement, instead of being served and protected by them," Williams said in a statement on Monday, adding, "It is not OK for this to be so common in our country. It’s just not OK.”