Family Of Man Killed By Long Beach Police Sues City: 'It Was The Wrong Thing To Do'
The family of a man fatally shot by Long Beach police last month said there's no reason police should have fired, according to a wrongful death suit.
Jason Conoscenti, 36, was shot in the back as he fled down an outdoor staircase toward the beach on April 27. Conoscenti's encounter with Long Beach police was caught in a cell phone video.
Nona Opsitnick and Linda Sterett, Conoscenti's aunts, and their attorney Dale Galipo announced the wrongful death suit on Thursday in downtown Los Angeles in front of a federal courthouse. They dispute police's claim that Conoscenti looked like he was reaching for a weapon. Opsitnick said at the press conference: "It was the wrong thing to do. He had his hands on the rail going down, he never put his hands down."
The confrontation began when officers approached Conoscenti at a Compton Target store to question him about a suspected theft. Deputies claim Conoscenti pulled out a pair of scissors and then took off in a white SUV. A chase led to a cul-de-sac near East Ocean Blvd. and 14th Place. After refusing to leave the vehicle for 15 minutes, officers say Conoscenti ran holding a wooden stick toward the staircase. He was pursued by a police dog.
Here's where things get confusing: Officers stationed at the top of the stairs fired non-lethal "stunbags" (more commonly known as bean bag rounds) at Conoscenti, which didn't stop him. Officers from LBPD positioned on the beach say that because their view of the bottom of the stairs was obstructed, and because they heard shots from above, they believed Conoscenti was armed. When they saw him appear to reach for his waistband, they opened fire. In the disturbing video, Conoscenti writhes on the beach for a good two minutes before officers arrive to detain him. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Darla Adamson, who Conoscenti lived with, told L.A. Times he was a "troubled man" who was afraid of police. He'd had run-ins before but he thought he knew how to avoid being shot: "He told me, 'As long as you have your hands out, and you don't have them hidden or anything like that, they know you're unarmed."
Galipo, who was joined by the family members of two others killed by Long Beach police, pointed out that the department has a questionable history of shooting people. Galipo said:
"We believe Long Beach has a problem with officer-involved shootings and they've had a problem for some time. Ironically, the chief of Long Beach police wants to run for sheriff of L.A. county. One wonders whether a person with his track record is the best person."
In December 2010, Long Beach Police fatally shot 35-year-old Douglas Zerby, who was intoxicated and wielding a "black pistol-grip water nozzle" both a 9-1-1 caller and police thought was a gun. His sister, Eden Marie James, appeared with Galipo Thursday.
In October 2013, 39-year-old John Del Real was fatally shot by an undercover officer conducting a drug investigation in his neighborhood after the officer claims he was approached threateningly by Del Real, who was allegedly armed with an aluminum bat. The details of the case are extremely different, depending on whether you're talking to police or the Del Real family's attorney, Brian Claypool, who also represented Douglas Zerby's family and netted them a $6.5 million verdict. Del Real's mother, Shirley Lowery, was also present with Galipo.
The L.A. Times reports 15 officer-involved shootings in 2013, six of them fatal—double the number of the previous year. In November 2013, the department shot and killed 19-year-old Tyler Damon Woods after he and several others fled a traffic stop. Believing Woods to be armed, he was shot and killed by officers after he climbed to the roof of an apartment building.