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Calling the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Granada High School graduate by law enforcement a “freakish set of circumstances,” a judge Wednesday awarded the victim’s parents $3 million but found the officers were not negligent in the killing.
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald’s split ruling was a vindication of sorts for Zachary Champommier’s mother, Carol Champommier.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “Not just the grieving but what they said about him – attempted murder of a police officer. I just had to put it in perspective.”
On the night of June 24, 2010, Champommier was in the parking lot behind a Chipotle restaurant in the 12100 block of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City to meet a friend he’d met online the night before, according to witness accounts. At the same time, a joint task force of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Los Angeles Police Department officers were in the parking lot in plainclothes for a debriefing on an unrelated narcotics incident.
According to agents and deputies, the man Champommier was meeting, Douglas Oeters, looked suspicious, and upon seeing him looking into multiple car windows in the parking lot, they attempted to detain him. He said he was merely looking for Champommier.
When Champommier saw the altercation, he drove at the plainclothes officers, striking one. A deputy and a DEA agent then fired several shots at the car, killing Champommier. His mother’s lawyers argued he was just trying to get out of the parking lot.
In his 43-page ruling, Fitzgerald ruled in favor of the defendants on the first count of negligence, saying that holding the debriefing in the parking lot was acceptable and that Oeters’ behavior was suspicious. However, he said Zachary’s parents were entitled to compensation for a second count of battery, noting that the officers were not in danger of great bodily harm when they shot Champommier.
Fitzgerald awarded $2 million to Carol Champommier and $1 million to his father, Eric Feldman, who had been estranged from the family. In closing arguments of the bench trial earlier this year, attorneys asked for $10 million. The lower amount, said the mother’s attorney, Gary Dordick, is a result of the federal government’s system of bench rather than jury trials. The case fell under federal jurisdiction because it was determined that a DEA agent was the one who fired the fatal shot.
“I don’t criticize the decision, but I think it is less than what 12 people in the community would have found,” he said.
The District Attorney’s investigative Justice System Integrity Division had previously declined to proceed with charges against the officers involved. “(The DA’s office) will not file criminal charges against these officers because they acted in lawful self-defense,” said the report.
For those who knew the honors student and school band member, Wednesday’s verdict was a cause for celebration.
“It kind of feels like validation,” said Kenzie Bakr, a friend of Zachary since middle school.
Outside the courthouse, the large group of family and friends who attended the reading hugged one another and shared recollections.
“He was so nice to me. I remember that we used to sit and draw together,” said Zachary Champommier’s cousin Claire Champommier. “He was always kind of quiet, but we understood each other.”
His mother, a teacher at Beckford Avenue Elementary School in Northridge, said she is surrounded by memories of her only child.
“I still have his bedroom there,” she said. “There’s lots of stuff in the garage. He was kind of a pack rat, like me.”
Each year since Champommier’s death, there has been a vigil in his memory, and many rallied around his mother during the trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it is considering an appeal.
“We believe this was justified; we continue to believe this is justified,” said spokesman Thom Mrozek.
He added that to his knowledge, none of the agents involved, including the DEA agent who was determined to have fired the fatal shot, has been discliplined as a result of the incident.
The office must file an intent to appeal within 10 days. ––– ©2013 Daily News (Los Angeles) Visit the Daily News (Los Angeles) at www.dailynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services AMX-2013-08-21T23:59:00-04:00