Angel Mendez lost his leg and much of the feeling in his arm after he was shot multiple times by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in Lancaster in 2010.
“I was terrified; I didn’t know who it was, what was going on or what was going to happen. Next thing you know, I was getting shot,” he said.
He and his wife, Jennifer, were homeless, living in a shack on their friend’s land in Lancaster when deputies came on to the property looking for a parolee, who was not there.
“During the process of searching the property for a very dangerous individual, a person came out of a back building and had a weapon and pointed it at the deputies, so the deputies, fearing for their safety and perhaps safety of anyone around them, did fire,” said Steve Whitmore of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Mendez says he was actually putting the weapon in question – a BB gun – down. Mendez says the BB gun was for pest control.
The couple says they were asleep in bed when the deputies burst into their dwelling without a warrant and started shooting. Jennifer, who was seven months pregnant, was shot in the back.
“The only way I knew that he was still alive was the fact that he was screaming for them to stop shooting and telling them that it was just a BB gun, and to stop because I was pregnant,” said Jennifer.
Their lawyer, David Drexler, says the case is a victory for minority and impoverished people in Lancaster and Palmdale, who he believes have been targeted by law enforcement.
“The Justice Department has found a widespread pattern of unconstitutional behavior and police brutality by L.A. County Sheriff’s in Palmdale and Lancaster,” said Drexler. Whitmore says L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies are “highly-trained” and the “most self-restrained, if you will, law enforcement officials throughout the nation.”
The couple won $4.1 million in the case, and their baby survived.
“He’s wonderful. His name is A.J. Bendecito Mendez, which stands for ‘blessed’ in Spanish, because he’s blessed to be with us.”
The deputies involved are still working after going through an internal investigation that found they did nothing wrong. Sheriff’s department officials say they are exploring their options, and the case may not be over.