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Family of Man Shot Mistakenly by Deputies Files $25 Mil Claim Against County

John Winkler's parents "have to endure the knowledge that his death was eminently avoidable," said Sim Osborn, the attorney representing the Winkler family.

John Winkler. KTLA screenshot.
John Winkler. KTLA screenshot.

The family of an aspiring television producer who was mistakenly shot and killed by deputies sent to a West Hollywood apartment building to investigate an assault report filed a $25 million claim today against Los Angeles County.

County officials had no immediate response to the claim, which is the precursor to a lawsuit. The family said it plans to file the lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court, alleging the sheriff's deputies, among other causes, violated John Winkler's civil rights in shooting and killing him.

The claim alleges that Winkler was one of three hostages held captive by Alexander McDonald inside an apartment. While Winkler helped a severely injured friend who had been stabbed by the assailant, sheriff's deputies mistakenly shot Winkler as he exited the apartment, killing him, according to the claim.

"I don't think there is any burden greater for a parent to bear than burying their child, and John's parents also have to endure the knowledge that his death was eminently avoidable had the sheriff's deputies exercised any degree of prudency before opening fire," said Sim Osborn, the attorney representing Winkler's family.

"We hope that the legal filing will help us understand how the deputies could have shot two innocent young men, mistaking them both for the assailant, tragic decisions leading to tragic outcomes."

The claim asks for $25 million in damages for Winkler's death.

"Words simply cannot convey how devastated we are over John's death," said Lisa Ostergren, Winkler's mother. "He was the sort of bright spirit that touched everyone he met, and the senselessness of his death makes it even more tragic."

The 30-year-old Winkler had recently completed his education at the Seattle Film Institute. He had moved to Los Angeles six months earlier from Washington state and had recently been hired as a production assistant on the Comedy Central series "Tosh.0," his family said.

"We spent a lot of time discussing whether we should file this action, but at the end of the day, my family is owed truth and accountability," Ostergren said. "I am filing this not as John's mother, but as every mother, hoping to protect them from enduring what we are going through."

Said Osborn: "Unfortunately, victims like John and his family have little leverage or power to seek truth or to demand accountability through means other than legal action. Lisa and her family deserve to know how and why the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department failed so horribly that it cost John his life."

According to Osborn, the sheriff's department had a description of McDonald and even a photo of him.

"We have many questions for the LASD, including how they could have confused McDonald for John two very different looking men when witnesses had given them a photo just moments earlier," Osborn said.

The sheriff's department is conducting an investigation of the April 7 shooting, Osborn said.

According to Osborn, Winkler was visiting a friend's apartment in the 900 block of Palm Avenue with three other friends when McDonald, a resident of that apartment, suddenly began stabbing one of the men.

Alerted by other residents of McDonald's unusual behavior, sheriff's deputies came to the scene, and when Winkler and one of the other men attempted to escape the apartment, sheriff's deputies shot them both, killing Winkler and injuring the other man.

McDonald, 27, was apprehended in the apartment. He has been charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of torture. and is being held on $4-million bail, officials said.

--City News Service


George April 30, 2014 at 01:47 PM
So sorry to hear the news of the gay mans murder. Not sure why the police killed him? You have to be so careful because these policeman will kill you if they feel like it and just say it was in the line of duty. We need the police but so many times the people hired to protect us have psychological issues. You give people like that power and a weapon and you are just asking for trouble. I am sure Henry Winklers whole family is devastated at the loss of there kin. Sure hope they win the case? The police in Fullerton beat to death a homeless man a couple of years ago. They when on trial but were found not guilty. Sadly, the guilty often get away with murder. Not fair.

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