An eight-panel jury made up of six women and two men deliberated for two full days late last week before returning an unanimous verdict that found the two deputies, Nick Tollefson and Justin Musella, used excessive and unreasonable force and were negligent, according to Dale K. Galipo, an attorney for Young.
RIVERSIDE — A teenager shot outside his family’s Adelanto home in 2014 by two deputies searching for an unrelated murder suspect has been awarded more than $110,000 by a civil jury in federal court, the man’s attorney said Tuesday.
Keivon Young was 18 years old in January 2014 when he was shot multiple times by the deputies as they were staking out a scene in the 1100 block of La Paz Street, seeking murder suspect Robert Pope, who was accused of the crime and attempted murder the day before in Apple Valley.
An eight-panel jury made up of six women and two men deliberated for two full days late last week before returning a unanimous verdict that found the two deputies, Nick Tollefson and Justin Musella, used excessive and unreasonable force and were negligent, according to Dale K. Galipo, an attorney for Young.
“The jury (also) found the officers acted with malice, oppression and with reckless disregard for Mr. Young’s rights,” Galipo said.
That latter finding, he said, resulted in confidential punitive damages in excess of the $110,000 jury award.
Young had been accused of acting suspiciously, creeping around nearby homes and later brandishing two knives as a team of law enforcement officials conducted surveillance at a home where they believed Pope’s sister lived.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Ades testified three months after the incident that Young appeared to “stealthily” inch toward an open-door occupied garage at the home being surveyed.
Young also reportedly flashed an object with a white handle, later determined to be a knife, and then tucked it into his waistband.
“It’s getting to the point there’s an assault imminent,” Ades testified, thinking Young was targeting the garage occupants.
Authorities contend that Young ignored orders to show his hands and instead pulled two knives, spurring two deputies to shoot multiple times.
Ades testified he heard 10 to 12 shots fired. The civil lawsuit filed by Young’s attorneys suggests that 20 shots were fired. Either way, Young was struck at least three times: in the hip, buttocks, and hamstrings. His attorneys said he suffered severe injuries to internal organs, although he ultimately recovered.
After being charged with two felony counts for resisting and obstructing a peace officer, Young entered a plea deal and admitted to a misdemeanor count of the charge and carrying a dirk or dagger. He was sentenced to five months in jail and three years supervised probation in June 2014.
Young’s attorneys dispute that the deputies announced themselves before shooting yet they didn’t disagree that Young had carried two knives, which were later found by his side. He had the 8- to 9-inch blades for self-protection after earlier being challenged by a group of men, according to a District Attorney’s report a year ago, which concluded the deputies were justified in the shooting based on self-defense and that one weapon was believed to be a firearm.
“We were determined to fight this case,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement. “We believed our deputies acted appropriately based on the circumstances they were presented with. The verdict by the jury came back differently. We will analyze the decision after being briefed by our attorneys.”
Galipo said the verdict felt like “vindication,” particularly because the Sheriff’s Department had rejected responsibility. In the civil complaint, Young’s attorneys said he was denied immediate care after the shooting and shot at while on the ground, and they questioned how he might ever have been confused for Pope given their remarkable differences: Young is 5-foot-4 and weighs 135 pounds. Pope is 6-2 and weighs 225 pounds.
Young’s attorneys concluded that the situation had been borne from systemic discrimination since Young is black and the shooting occurred in a predominantly black neighborhood.
“I think it was a group of mistakes made by the officers,” Galipo said, “and I also think the use of deadly force was excessive.”
Meanwhile, Pope, who was captured about two weeks after the incident, is scheduled to appear in trial slated to begin Feb. 6, court records show.