Thursday, September 4, 2003
C.A. Throws Out Suit By Family of Man Killed in Simi Valley Shooting
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An adverse ruling by a federal district judge bars a state court action by the family of a man shot to death by police officers after he pointed a gun at them in front of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
The justices granted a writ of mandate sought by the City of Simi Valley, agreeing that the dismissal of a federal civil rights action brought by the family of Stephen Bayer conclusively established that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the city and its officers.
Bayer died four years ago in a case of “suicide by cop,” Justice Kenneth Yeagan explained for Div. Six. He led police on a freeway chase that began in San Bernardino County, firing several shots at pursuing law enforcement vehicles, before exiting the freeway, driving into the gate of the library, and pointing a handgun at his head and then at police.
He then continued on his way, stopping in a residential neighborhood and again pointing the gun at his own head in the presence of police and telling them to shoot him, while the officers continued to entreat him to put the gun down and surrender. Family members came to the scene, reporting to police that Bayer was depressed and suicidal, and asked to be allowed to speak to him.
The police declined to allow family members near Bayer, expressing fear that would further agitate him. After the standoff had lasted several hours, the officers decided to use tear gas to extract Bayer, who exited the car, raising the gun.
Officers, who later testified they believed Bayer was pointing the gun at them, shot him to death.
In their federal complaint, Bayer’s survivors said the police used excessive force and deprived the decedent of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. They asserted causes of action for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and for state constitutional violations and wrongful death, as well as a claim that the police denied them their rights of familial association by not allowing them to talk to Bayer.
Following discovery in the federal action, U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow of the Central District of California granted the city’s motion for summary judgment on the federal claim and dismissed the state claims without prejudice. The judge found the officers’ conduct to be “objectively reasonable” and said the use of tear gas was not excessive under the circumstances.
Morrow said police had probable cause to arrest Bayer for a felony, and that Bayer was resisting arrest when the decision to use tear gas was made. His possession of a loaded weapon, she added, made him a threat to the officers and others.
After the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, the family’s attorneys sued in Ventura Superior Court, reasserting their claims that the use of tear gas was negligent and that police should not have prevented them from talking to Bayer before the decision to fire the gas was made. The complaint filed by attorneys Robert Mann and Donald W. Cook accused the police of violating the plaintiffs’ state constitutional rights to privacy, due process, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Kent Kellegrew held that at a minimum, the decedent’s father had stated a substantive due process claim—for loss of companionship—under the state Constitution that survived the adverse ruling in the federal action.
“A reasonable person, other police officers, attorneys, and even judges and justices may disagree on the tactics used to defuse this life-threatening situation,” the justice wrote. “But once it has been factually determined that the officers’ actions were ‘objectively reasonable’ by the United States District Court and such determination has been affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, the time for second guessing...must cease.”
The case is City of Simi Valley v. Superior Court (Bayer), B166917.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company