A Los Angeles Superior Court judge heard testimony on Tuesday about the circumstances leading up to an accidental fatal shooting on April 7 in West Hollywood in which two victims were shot by sheriff’s deputies as they tried to escape an attacker inside an apartment on Palm Avenue.
The testimony came during a preliminary hearing for a 28-year-old suspect, Alexander McDonald, who lived in the apartment and whose actions allegedly led to the shooting by sheriff’s deputies. John Winkler, 30, was killed, and a second victim, McDonald’s roommate Liam Mulligan, was shot and injured. Following the hearing, an attorney for the deceased victim’s family said he will file a lawsuit claiming negligence against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The Seattle-based attorney, Sim Osborn, said a $25 million claim was submitted to the sheriff’s department on April 28. Osborn said he was waiting to gather “as much information as possible” about the case before filing a lawsuit on behalf of Winkler’s family members, who live in the Seattle area.
“It should be filed shortly. I’m not sure when, but it will probably be in a week or two,” Osborn said. “The general allegation is that [the shooting] was beyond a reasonable standard of care for a police officer.”
The hearing on Tuesday was held to determine what charges McDonald will face. Judge James Dabney determined that McDonald can be held to stand trial on two counts of attempted murder and torture, but postponed a decision until Oct. 27 on whether the defendant will face a murder charge. California law stipulates that a defendant can be tried and convicted for murder if someone is killed while they are committing a felony.
The victims and witnesses testified Tuesday that McDonald had been acting erratically in the period before the shooting occurred. A female neighbor said McDonald had entered her apartment, was behaving strangely and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. The neighbor ran out of the apartment and called police.
After returning to his apartment, McDonald allegedly threatened Mulligan and his two friends — Winkler and a second man who was visiting from Australia. McDonald allegedly brandished the knife taken from the other apartment, and held them hostage. A struggle ensued, and McDonald allegedly stabbed Mulligan in the neck and began fighting with the visitor from Australia.
Mulligan ran for the door and Winkler followed, according to the court testimony. As the roommate and Winkler ran through the doorway, deputies who had been assembling outside the apartment fired, believing the second man, — now identified to be Winkler — was the armed suspect, according to Lt. David Coleman, with the sheriff’s department’s homicide bureau.
Coleman said the deputies saw the first man bleeding profusely from the neck and the second man running closely behind, and believed the victim’s life and their lives were in danger. He said the shooting has been determined to be accidental, and the information gathered during the department’s investigation has been forwarded to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for further review, which is routine in officer-involved shooting cases.
Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, confirmed the information had been received, and added that there is no timeline for how long the district attorney’s office investigation will take to complete.
The deputies involved in the shooting returned to duty shortly after the incident. Coleman added that Winkler’s death and Mulligan’s injuries were regrettable.
“Obviously it was very unfortunate — a perfect storm of bad circumstances,” he added.
It is unknown whether Mulligan will also file a lawsuit against the department. Osborn said Winkler’s death has deeply affected the family. Winkler had moved to the West Hollywood area from Seattle and was working as a production assistant on the show “Tosh.0”.
“It’s terrible,” Osborn said. “[The family] was visibly shaken up.”
Osborn added that he hopes the incident will lead to changes in sheriff’s department policy regarding deputy-involved shootings.
“Our hope is the truth comes out and that they change the way they do things, instead of shooting first and asking questions later,” Osborn said. “Hopefully, it will prevent this from happening to another family.”
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