A federal judge Tuesday awarded $3 million to the family of an 18-year-old Los Angeles honors student who was gunned down by undercover DEA agents in a parking garage in 2010. But the judge also ruled the officers were not negligent in their actions.
Zachary Champommier died when he drove into a Studio City shopping center parking lot to meet a friend. Also in the parking lot were a group of undercover officers, including DEA agents and LA County sheriff’s deputies and LAPD officers who had been deputized by the DEA.
The cops were discussing a search warrant they had just served when they observed Champommier’s friend walking in the parking garage. Suspecting the friend was breaking into cars, they detained him. When Champommier drove up, he saw his friend being accosted by people he didn’t know and attempted to drive away from possible trouble.
Officers claimed that Champommier’s vehicle struck a deputy as he attempted to leave the scene. Officers opened fire, killing the 18-year-old honor student and “band geek.”
Both the DEA and the LA County Sheriff’s Department said the shooting was justifiable because Champommier had tried to run down an officer.
“The nature of [Champommier’s] aggressive actions, actually hitting the deputy — that is not someone who is without some degree of fault,” Sheriff Lee Baca said shortly after the shooting.
Champommier’s mother, Carol, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, charging that federal and local drug enforcement officers were reckless in shooting at her son, who she claimed posed no reasonable threat.
US District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the DEA agents did have reason to believe they were in danger, but acted recklessly in shooting at Champommier’s vehicle as it passed them because at that point they were no longer in danger.
By Philip Smith