Hot Docs: Mother of 18-year-old killed by DEA agents sues

May 12, 2011

DEA triggerUnder what circumstances can federal agents open fire on a suspect?

There’s already a significant amount of case law on the topic, but there’s always room for different factual scenarios.

Just ask Carol Champommier, the mother of an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed by Federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers.

Champommier is suing the DEA for using excessive and unnecessary force on her son, because, according to the complaint, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The complaint narrates the circumstances leading up to her son’s killing as follows:

On the evening of June 24, 2010, defendants’ agents and officers, while undercover, congregated in a parking lot on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California.

They next detained a man who was walking through the parking lot.

Champommier’s son Zachary was sitting in a parked vehicle waiting to meet a friend when he observed the agents detain the man.

Zachary began to drive his vehicle to exit the parking lot, and when the agents saw him leaving, they opened fired, killing him instantly.

The complaint claims that Zachary was unarmed, and driving away from the agents, and therefore posed no danger to the officers.

It also states that the officers filed false reports on the incident in an attempt to cover up what happened.

Hot Doc: Champommier v. United States

Source: Westlaw News & Insight – National Litigation

Unless the actual facts vary significantly from the complaint, this will be an easy case for Champommier to win.

The Supreme Court held in Tennessee v. Garner that deadly force may not be used during an arrest unless it is necessary to prevent the suspect’s escape, and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Of course, the government will have to show that there was some attempt at arrest made on Zachary before he fled.  And to make that showing, the government would first have to show that he was aware that the undercover officers in street clothes were, in fact, federal authorities.

In truth, for the government to prevail here, Zachary would have had to have been knowingly fleeing from a lawful arrest, and he would have had to have been armed or threatening to run over the officers with the car when they shot him.

While the officers’ reports no doubt claim as such, that isn’t going to be enough in court.

Let’s assume that Zachary was party to the drug transaction that the officers were trying to bust up (which there’s no evidence of thus far).

Logically, if he saw someone getting arrested, even if he didn’t know the person, why wouldn’t he flee?

What motivation would he have to charge the officers with this car?

What motivation would he have to flash a gun so that the officers were aware that he was armed?

Unless the government can make such a showing, they had better settle outside of court.

Unfortunately, no amount of money will be able to bring Carol Champommier’s son back.