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Family of Black man killed by L.A. sheriff's deputies files $35 million claim against county

"There is a virus of excessive force against Black and brown residents of this community," attorney Carl Douglas said.
Family members of victims protest outside sheriffs home in La Habra, CA.
Sequarier McCoy, wearing a face mask showing her nephew Dijon Kizzee, sings Christmas carols outside the home of L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on La Habra, Calif., in protest of recent shootings and to demand the names of the deputies who killed Kizzee.Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

LOS ANGELES — The family of a Black man fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in August has filed a $35 million claim against the county for the “severe and substantial damages” resulting from Dijon Kizzee’s death, attorneys said Thursday.

The figure includes $25 million for Kizzee’s father, Edwin Kizzee, and $10 million for economic and injury costs to his estate “stemming from the intentional and/or negligent infliction of harm,” said Carl Douglas, one of the family's lawyers.

The claim, which Douglas said was filed Wednesday, alleges the county did not properly train the deputies involved and that Kizzee “did nothing to justify this use of serious and unreasonable force against him.”

"We are here because there is a civil rights virus that is raging among the sheriff's department in Los Angeles County," said Douglas, one of several civil rights attorneys representing Kizzee’s family. "There is a virus of excessive force against Black and brown residents of this community."

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is also representing Kizzee, along with the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd — all Black people killed during encounters with law enforcement — said that without ending police brutality and systemic racism, 2021 will be as “prolific” as 2020.

“So that's why we filed this $35 million claim, to send a message from the mountaintop that we won't continue to let the people who we pay taxes to continue to kill our children,” he said.

Image: Dijon Kizzee attorneys
Attorneys Carl Douglas, from left, and Benjamin Crump, point to bullet wounds on a diagram of Dijon Kizzee's body as part of an independent autopsy during a news conference in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2020.Stefanie Dazio / AP

The county did not respond Thursday to requests for comment. Kizzee's lawyers intend to file a lawsuit in state court if Los Angeles County officials reject the claim. The county has 45 days to respond.

Dijon Kizzee, 29, died on Aug. 31 in South Los Angeles after a brief but deadly encounter with two sheriff’s deputies, who have not been publicly identified. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in September that deputies attempted to stop Kizzee for an unspecified “traffic violation,” but Kizzee did not stop and ran away after abandoning his bike.

According to the sheriff’s department account, the deputies returned to their car and located Kizzee a few blocks away. During the confrontation, Kizzee raised his hands before lowering them and punching one of the deputies in the face. Kizzee allegedly dropped a gun and "made a motion" to pick it up, prompting deputies to fire at him more than a dozen times, the department said.

According to a September autopsy report by the Los Angeles Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office, Kizzee suffered from 16 gunshot wounds throughout his body. The manner of death was ruled homicide by law enforcement.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, lawyers for the family said they still don’t understand why Kizzee was stopped in the first place.

“Was it because he was a man riding while Black in a Black and brown community? The evidence points to something as sinister as that,” Douglas said.

According to an independent autopsy commissioned by the victim’s family, Kizzee did not die from the bullet wounds but by suffocation after his lungs filled with blood “while he was lying on the ground gasping for air.”

Douglas accused the deputies of not immediately administering medical aid as Kizzee lay dying.

Kizzee’s aunt, Fletcher Fair, said the shooting death of her nephew was “downright dirty.”

“I have no respect anymore for sheriffs,” she said. “I don't even like looking at them anymore on the street.”

Fair described Kizzee as a loving child who didn’t deserve to die in the street “like an animal.”

“It still hurts,” she said. “I don’t think it will ever go away.”

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department said the case will be submitted to the district attorney’s office when the investigation is completed but would not say why the deputies involved in Kizzee’s death have not been named publicly.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been the subject of ongoing controversy for months. In November, the county board of supervisors voted to explore ways to remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva from office. He has been the focus of countywide protests over excessive force allegations.

Villanueva’s department is the subject of a civil rights investigation underway by the California Attorney General’s Office over the allegations. The department has also been criticized for its longstanding "deputy gangs” that adhere to white supremacist ideologies and aggressive policing, according to a request made last year by the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Oversight and Reform that the Department of Justice investigate the department.