A convicted felon shot 10 times by Torrance police during two traffic stops in June 2011 is suing the city in federal court for assault, battery and civil rights violations. | POLICE NEWS
Jeremiah Banks, 33, was shot during a chase that began on the San Diego (405) Freeway and continued onto surface streets.
His U.S. District Court lawsuit contends Banks was unarmed and "not engaged in the commission of any crime" when police stopped and shot him.
"It is our belief he was not displaying a weapon of any kind and he wasn't armed when he was shot 10 times," said Santa Ana attorney Federico Castelan Sayre, who is handling the case. "There's no proof that showed he had a deadly weapon."
But what the lawsuit doesn't say is that police were attempting to pull over Banks' gray Ford sport utility vehicle with no license plate because it matched the description of one being driven by a suspected robber.
That robber had taken a man's briefcase after holding him up at gunpoint near the Coffee Bean & Tea at Hawthorne and Del Amo boulevards about 20 minutes earlier.
A similar vehicle was used in the robbery of a McDonald's fast-food restaurant manager in north Torrance a week earlier.
After Banks was shot the second time, police recovered two replica guns from the vehicle.
Banks was subsequently convicted of two counts
Judge Eric C. Taylor sentenced Banks in September to 15 years in state prison in connection with the incident, Thompson-Bell said.
Given what they knew at the time, officers had reasonable suspicion to believe Banks was armed, Thompson-Bell said.
But Sayre, who represented Rodney King and won a $3.8million judgment stemming from his infamous 1991 beating by Los Angeles police officers, believes he has a case nonetheless.
"I just have to show what they did was inappropriate behavior in shooting him," Sayre said. "You can't use deadly force on a human being unless you are objectively in fear of your life and in fear for the lives of others."
Sayre declined to say how much he would seek in the case.
But City Attorney John Fellows said the city believes the actions of its officers were justified.
"I do not think we're going to pay to settle this case," he said. "We think this is a defensible case. He's complaining that we shot him and we're saying it's a justifiable shooting.
"We believe all of the conduct of all the officers was fine and perfectly appropriate."
The lawsuit was filed in July.
The case came to light when the city allocated $250,000 at Tuesday's City Council meeting for legal fees to hire outside counsel to defend the police officers involved in the case.
An amended complaint filed Thursday identified the officers involved in the shooting as Sgt. Keith Thompson and Officers Matthew Concannon, Andrew Esquivel and David Ortega.
All except Esquivel remain employed by the city. He was fired earlier this year.
"The fact he is no longer employed with the city has nothing to do with the Jeremiah Blanks incident," Fellows said.
He declined to elaborate, citing privacy issues.
Concannon was involved in a 2008 incident that resulted in a $300,000 settlement against the city after he and other officers investigating a noise complaint were found to have illegally entered a backyard and arrested a resident of the house.
Police officials later acknowledged in court they knew the conduct was against the law, yet conceded it was within department policy to make such unauthorized entries to abate a nuisance.
It's unknown whether the policy was changed in the wake of the settlement, paid by taxpayers.
But Torrance police has a reputation in the legal community of aggressively dealing with criminal suspects and then mounting a vigorous defense when faced with a lawsuit.
Police Chief John Neu acknowledged as much to the City Council as recently as Tuesday, as he discussed tactics dealing with suspects officers believe are armed.
"We're going to go in and eliminate the threat," he said of police tactics in an "active shooter situation."
Banks' lawsuit accuses Torrance police of customs and practices that "encourage an atmosphere of lawlessness within the Police Department and to encourage their police officers to believe that excessive force against suspects was permissible."
In the Banks incident, the lawsuit alleges he was driving north on the 405 Freeway when a Torrance police officer attempted to make a traffic stop.
Banks apparently didn't stop, however, until a police officer rammed his vehicle using what's commonly called a pit (Police Intervention Technique) maneuver on Imperial Highway, according to a Daily Breeze story published the next day.
The officers then "inexplicably drew their pistols and fired into the vehicle," the lawsuit said. A bullet penetrated the driver's side door and hit Banks in the stomach.
Banks became "bewildered and threatened by the officers" and attempted to escape in his car again, the lawsuit said. At one point he drove his SUV northbound in the southbound lanes of Sepulveda Boulevard, according to the newspaper.
Banks didn't stop until his vehicle was rammed a second time at Manchester Avenue and Airport Boulevard, the Breeze said.
Banks got out of his car, but "without explanation" was shot nine times by police, the suit contends.
His injuries included a "shattered" hipbone, a metal plate inserted in a thigh bone, the loss of part of his ear by a bullet and a left knee that had to be surgically reconstructed. He also took a bullet to the buttocks.
Today, Banks walks with a limp and has "a lot of pain and difficulties," Sayre said.
Banks had a prior criminal record that included a 2001 assault conviction and 2003 robbery conviction. He received a six-year sentence in the latter case.
He was released on parole in April 2011, just a couple of months before the Torrance shooting.
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