The family of Jason Conoscenti, the man who was shot and killed by Long Beach Police Department officers last month, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the citing seeking damages exceeding $10 million.
Conoscenti’s aunts--Nona Opsitnick and Linda Sterett--filed the lawsuit earlier this month and are being represented by attorney Dale Galipo. They claim that the Long Beach officers “unjustly used excessive force” and that he “posed no imminent threat of death or serious physical injury” to the officers when they shot him multiple times as he was fleeing from Sheriff's deputies on 14th Place onto the beach below April 27. The lawsuit goes on to state that Conoscenti’s hands were visible and he was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
36-year-old Conoscenti led Los Angeles County Sheriffs on a slow speed pursuit from Compton to Long Beach after they confronted him at a Target store due to an alleged theft. Deputies said that during the encounter, Conoscenti brandished a pair of scissors before fleeing the scene in a white SUV.
The pursuit ended around 3:15PM in a cul-de-sac near the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and 14th Place. Conoscenti remained in his vehicle for roughly 15 minutes before exiting with a large stick in his hand and fleeing down the beach-access stairs. Deputies engaged him by firing non-lethal rounds as he fled toward the beach where LBPD officers were waiting.
In a video posted on YouTube, Conoscenti is seen running down the staircase with a K-9 following close behind before several shots are fired, dropping him to the ground. He struggled for a few minutes before LBPD officers approached and handcuffed him. Conoscenti was loaded into an ambulance minutes later and transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after.
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In a statement, the LBPD said their officers on the ground heard the Sheriff's firing stunbags at the suspect and believed that Conoscenti had been in a gun fight with the deputies at the top of the stairwell. The officers' position on the beach below also obscured their view and when they believed the suspect was reaching for his waistband, they opened fire.
Cmdr. Don Wood of the Long Beach Police Department’s Gang and Violent Crime division told the L.A. Times that the video "is just one piece of the puzzle, just one perspective" of what happened that day.
"This is a tragic event that occurred, and I’m sure it’s difficult for all that are involved," Wood said.
Conoscenti’s death was the first officer-involved shooting this year. In 2013, the police department had 15 officer involved shootings involving human suspects, six of which were fatal and seven of which were non-fatal hits. In December, under scrutiny for a series of officer-involved shootings during a few month span, LBPD created an advisory committee to examine the department's use of force policies. According to LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell, around 1.5% of all arrests in the city involve use of force (described as "resistance on the part of the suspect"), though they do not always result in injury.
According to public records, the city has paid out $18.8 million in damages for officer involved shootings since 2008 with an average annual tab of $3.1 million.