Los Angeles County has reached as-yet-undisclosed settlement terms with three teens who sued alleging their civil rights were violated when they were held at gunpoint after bystanders called 911 and reported the teens were victims of an attack, according to filings in federal court.
Robert Stanford Brown, attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to release any details from the terms of the conditional settlement, because it was pending approval from county officials.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors must sign off on any lawsuit settlement more than $100,000, according to the policies list on the L.A. County Claims Board website. The lawsuit is listed as having been on the agenda for the Liability Trust Fund Claims Board for Contract Cities, as the city contracts with the county Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services within city limits.
Federal records available online indicate the two sides reached terms on May 31.
The plaintiffs, identified as Titus Gist, who was 18 at the time of the incident, and two minors represented by their family members, alleged in their lawsuit they were physically accosted by a “significantly larger adult male” near the bus stop in front of Buffalo Wild Wings on Soledad Canyon Road on Aug. 7, 2020.
The assault suspect fled the scene, and the three were told that law enforcement had been called, according to their lawsuit.
“Upon arrival, the multiple LACSD deputies, without provocation, immediately pointed their guns at plaintffs while yelling at them to put their hands up. Indeed, one deputy pointed an AR-15 rifle at the plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
While deputies were detaining and handcuffing the teens, a group assembled around the mid-day scene taking place next to one of the city’s busiest streets, explaining “to the officers, in substance, that plaintiffs (have) done nothing wrong and were the ones in need of law enforcement assistance,” per the complaint.
The lawsuit also alleges that the department, under then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva, maintained “a policy of inaction … towards soaring numbers of incidents of excessive force.”
Sheriff’s Department officials did not respond to a request for comment to the Sheriff’s Information Bureau as of the publication of this story.
A Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station official at the time of the incident said deputies responded to multiple reports of an alleged assault on Whites and Soledad canyon roads (near the restaurant) around 5 p.m., according to previous reports. He also said a witness reported someone was attacked by a skateboard.
A video that quickly went viral shortly after the incident showed the teens being detained at gunpoint by sheriff’s deputies. Witnesses can be heard yelling, “They’re the victims.” According to witnesses, the teens had defended themselves with their skateboards from an older man who was brandishing a knife and trying to attack them.
The plaintiffs were released after they were questioned. Their lawsuit alleges they were “subjected to deprivation of rights by defendants,” and that deputies “violated plaintiffs’ constitutional right to be free from excessive force by pointing guns at them without provocation …. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that defendants have also falsified and fabricated reports regarding their use of excessive force against plaintiffs.”
The complaint also states the plaintiffs “suffered mental and emotional injuries, which are ongoing.”
The incident drew widespread coverage during a time when Black Lives Matter protests were spreading across the country in response to a number of police-involved incidents, including the death of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minnesota in May of that year.
The Monday following the Friday afternoon incident in August 2020, then-Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth said he shared concerns with city staff over the incident, and a statement from Smyth noted the city asked that the deputy who drew the rifle be removed from the field pending an investigation.