County to pay $4.6 million to family of man shot by deputy in Castaic

A Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputy stands guard outside of a patrol car as homicide detectives process the scene of a deputy-involved shooting in Castaic in August 2016. Austin Dave/The Signal
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County supervisors authorized a $4.6 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Bill Bowers, who was shot and killed by a local sheriff’s deputy in 2016.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to authorize payment in the civil case filed by the deceased man’s widow, Vanessa Bowers, vs. the County of Los Angeles.

Investigators with the Los Angeles County Claims Board recommended supervisors authorize the settlement of two lawsuits that were later consolidated into one.

The two lawsuits filed by Bowers’ relatives alleged wrongful death and civil rights violations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

County lawyers, explaining their recommendation to settle, wrote in a case summary submitted to supervisors: “Given the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a full and final settlement of these two cases is recommended.”

The $4.6 million settlement includes more than $190,534 in lawyers’ fees.

In a document made available to supervisors, investigators with the Los Angeles County Claims Board summed up the Bowers shooting this way:

Stolen Vehicle report

On Aug. 2, 2016, shortly before 9 p.m., two uniformed deputies on patrol in Castaic responded to reports of a stolen vehicle at the Rodeway Inn Motel.

Deputies spotted Bowers riding his bicycle in the parking lot.

Bowers, lawyers pointed out in their summary of the shooting, was “known from several prior contacts as a local transient, who sold drugs, and was on active probation for theft and narcotics.”

As Bowers rode his bike, they say, deputies drove up next to him and “illuminated him with the patrol car’s spotlight.”

The first deputy said through an open window, “Hey, Bill, can we talk to you?”

When Bowers looked over his shoulder at the deputies he yelled, “—k you!” and began pedaling fast as he rode away, followed by deputies.

County lawyers reported in their summary that Bowers twice threw “a small object” from his right hand as he pedaled away.

Tossing small objects

Deputies believed Bowers was throwing drugs away.

Bowers then rode his bike between two motel buildings and was out of sight.

Deputies tried to find him, then spotted Bowers riding toward Castaic Road.

The first deputy then turned on the overhead lights of the patrol car, used the siren and air horn as they drove toward Bowers.

Bowers, however, continued to ride his bike on a dirt sidewalk between a chain-link fence and a tractor-trailer parked on Castaic Road.

As he continued to flee, he used one hand to reach into his pocket and appeared, one more time, to toss something over the fence. Deputies shouted for him to stop his bicycle.

Lawyers noted in their account of that night that Bowers appeared to be out of character compared to previous encounters with deputies. Deputies interpreted this to suggest Bowers may “have drugs and/or could be armed.”

“Due to poor lighting, fences, fixed objects, a parked tractor-trailer and a nearby taco truck with several patrons, the deputies again lost sight of Bowers,” according to the report.

As they drove past the tractor-trailer, they spotted Bowers’ bike left on the dirt sidewalk.

Foot pursuit

Taco truck patrons indicated to deputies that Bowers was moving north. One of the deputies began moving on foot.

The other deputy drove alongside his partner. In a bid to head Bowers off, the patrol car driver drove past the tractor-trailer and stopped, practically blocking the driveway of the Rodeway Inn.

The driving deputy got out of his cruiser and moved in front of the tractor-trailer until he spotted Bowers walking toward him.

“The first deputy sheriff contacted the decedent, pointed his firearm at him, activated the gun light, and said, ‘Bill, stop, let me see your hand.’”

Bowers, the lawyers contend, did not comply and continued walking toward the first deputy.

Cupped hands

The first deputy saw Bowers raise his hands up from his waistband toward his chest, they wrote. “The decedent cupped his hands together and appeared to be holding an object, now at chest level.

“The first deputy sheriff feared the decedent was continuing to advance, had a gun in his hands, was taking a shooting stance and was about to shoot him.”

In fear for his life, the first deputy fired one round from his pistol, which struck Bowers on the left side of his chest, from about 5 to 10 feet away, according to the report.

Bowers fell on the dirt sidewalk next to the passenger side of the tractor trailer.

Deputies held Bowers at gunpoint until backup units arrived. When they checked Bowers for signs of life, they found none.

No weapon, no drugs

Paramedics with the Los Angeles County Fire Department carried out “life-saving efforts” that proved unsuccessful. Bowers was pronounced dead at the scene.

“No weapons were found on or near the decedent’s body,” lawyers wrote in their summary.

When the path Bowers rode on his bike was checked, no weapons or narcotics were found.

Blood tests later showed Bowers had amphetamine, methamphetamine and marijuana in his system.

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