A judge is expected to hear arguments next week in a lawsuit filed by the family members of a firefighter shot and killed by a coworker at the Acton fire station where they both worked.
Jonathan Tatone shot and killed Tory Carlon, a 21-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, on June 1, 2021, and seriously injured Capt. Arnie Sandoval when he tried to intervene.
The family is suing the county and Tatone’s estate, claiming in arguments filed Dec. 23 in a second amended complaint that the county is liable.
In court filings, the family’s attorney argues firefighters have special circumstances, Tatone presented a “well-known danger,” Fire Department leadership “ratified” Tatone’s aggressive behaviors and a judge in Sandoval’s lawsuit made several supportive rulings.
The county fired back in a filing Friday, arguing the second amended complaint has “incurable” legal deficiencies because any unpublished ruling in Sandoval’s lawsuit isn’t applicable, the county isn’t liable because Tatone was acting outside of his scope of employment and the plaintiffs can’t prove negligence.
While the county argues Tory Carlon’s death was tragic and unforeseeable, the complaint argues that department leadership was aware of Tatone’s “bullying and violent tendencies toward Carlon” that “progressively worsened” in the months prior to his death.
The complaint also notes that the inexplicable aggression got so bad that Carlon kept a journal logging incidents involving Tatone prior to the shooting.
“Chief (Kevin) Halverson, Capt. Sandoval and Capt. Alsushi all knew that Tatone was mentally unstable, had anger issues and needed professional help, yet no action was taken, thus leaving Carlon as an easy and vulnerable victim of Tatone’s violent outburst,” according to the complaint. It also argues that Sandoval warned others about Tatone’s aggression toward Carlon.
Sandoval was recognized by the Fire Department with a Medal of Valor in April for his actions in the aftermath of the shooting.
Counsel for Carlon’s family also cites Judge Michael Whitaker’s ruling in Sandoval’s lawsuit, which states the allegation that “Tatone’s tortious conduct arose from a dispute over the performance of his duties is sufficient at the pleading stage to show vicarious liability may attach.”
However, in its response, the county’s attorneys contend the judge’s ruling in that case isn’t a published decision, and it’s “from a case involving a different plaintiff and a different pleading and has no precedential value in the present matter.”
The counsel for L.A. County, Miller Barondess LLP, also argued with precedents that claimed “an employer’s ratification of prior distinct misconduct does not ratify subsequent misconduct of a different character,” i.e., the complaint fails to prove the “alleged bullying and one-off threats of a fistfight foreshadowed Tatone’s murder (of Carlon).”
The Carlons’ complaint also points out a few mitigating factors that argue firefighters have special circumstances in relationship to their employer, which factor into the workplace liability, such as the fact that firefighters are required to live together at the fire station like a family.
The complaint also claims Tatone told his mother that his supervisors refused to do anything about their conflict and forced the two to work together, despite Tatone telling department leadership about his problems with Carlon.
“On the morning of the shooting,” reads the complaint, “Tatone emailed his mother, ‘I’m sorry it has to be this way, but I can no longer take what’s going on.’”
Later that same day, according to the Dec. 23 filing, “Tatone confronted Carlon, drew a firearm, screamed, ‘Payback’s an (expletive), (expletive),’” before he shot and killed the firefighter and then shot and seriously wounded Sandoval, who tried to intervene.
The Carlons’ suit is set for a hearing at 8:30 a.m. Monday in Chatsworth. Sandoval’s suit against the county is set for a final status conference at 10 a.m. July 6 in Los Angeles.