By Sean Emery | semery@scng.com and Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | Orange County Register
Published: March 14, 2018 at 6:13 pm | Updated: March 14, 2018 at 7:07 pm

Jurors in a federal civil rights trial have awarded $33.5 million to the family of a man who was shot and killed by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy during a 2015 encounter at the El Rancho Motel in Barstow.

The eight-member jury deliberated for around two hours before unanimously awarding the parents of Nathaniel Harris Pickett Jr. $15.5 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages, said Dale Galipo, a veteran civil rights attorney from Woodland Hills who represented the family during the trial.

“It’s the jury’s way of saying they will not tolerate the continued police shootings of unarmed people. The message it sends is that unjustified shootings will not be tolerated,” Galipo said.

He said he thought the jury’s monetary award might be the largest in the country involving a police shooting, and certainly the largest he has received from a jury in the 15 years he has been trying excessive use of force and wrongful death cases involving police.

“I need to step back and pinch myself. It’s almost unbelievable,” Galipo said.

San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert referred comment to the Sheriff’s Department.

“We strongly disagree with the outcome based on the evidence in this case,” sheriff’s Lt. Sarkis Ohannessian said in a statement. “Our attorneys, the department and the county, will be discussing appealing the jury’s award.”

The federal lawsuit accused Deputy Kyle Woods of shooting an unarmed, mentally ill Pickett after a foot chase that began shortly after 9 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2015. Pickett had fallen down, the lawsuit alleged, and was on the ground, scooting back when the deputy shot him in the chest.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office concluded that the shooting was justified.

County prosecutors wrote in a report released in November 2016 that Woods believed Pickett was under the influence of a controlled substance and that Pickett had resisted arrest and punched the deputy, fracturing his nasal bone and knocking his head on cement.

The DA’s report indicated that Pickett attempted to grab Woods’ gun, causing the deputy to feel he was in a “life or death struggle with Pickett.”

Attorney’s for the Pickett family disputed the DA’s findings, and accused the deputy of changing his story multiple times.

 

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