The family of a teen girl who was injured in an accidental police shooting in 2018 is seeking $950,000 in damages from the City of Morgan Hill.
The 14-year-old girl’s family filed a claim for damages with City Hall Aug. 30, 2018, in relation to the accidental police shooting that occurred in April of that year. The claim is currently under consideration by city officials. The Morgan Hill City Council has not taken action or otherwise considered the teen’s claim.
Attorneys for the teen said they can’t comment on the details of the case because the claimant is a juvenile.
“We are committed as the minor’s attorneys to ensure that no permanent injury was sustained during this event,” reads a statement from Albie B. Jachimowicz of the Jachimowicz Law Group.
The teen was injured during a felony vehicle stop initiated by Morgan Hill Police April 29, 2018. The 15-year-old male driver of a stolen Morgan Hill Unified School District van, with two teen passengers inside, had led officers on a high speed chase that ended near the intersection of Llagas and Del Monte avenues.
Just after officers used a PIT maneuver to cause the van to crash in that area, the two female teen passengers exited and began walking toward MHPD Sgt. Bill Norman with their hands up, according to a report of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s investigation of the incident. As Norman used his right hand to push one of the teens to the ground as he had verbally instructed, he accidentally fired a round from his department-issued handgun into the ground as he was holstering the weapon with his left hand.
A fragment of the bullet that went into the ground bounced up and hit the 14-year-old girl, identified in the DA’s report as “M. Doe,” in the area of her right eye, reads the DA’s report. The teen was treated at a nearby hospital and released the next day.
The DA’s report, compiled by Assistant DA Brian Welch, called the incident “an unfortunate accident” and found that Norman is not criminally liable for the injuries to the teen. The DA’s report was released to the public in January.
While Welch told the Times that the teen’s injury was a “slight” one, the girl’s civil claim says the shooting caused a “severe injury.”
The teen incurred more than $90,000 in medical bills because of her injuries, according to her claim. She is seeking $950,000 for general damages, hospital and medical expenses, emotional distress and pain and suffering. The claim was filed specifically against the City of Morgan Hill, Norman and other unnamed officers.
The “possible causes of action” listed on the claim are battery, negligence, violation of the Bane Act and other violations of the state constitution.
While the elected city council often considers such claims for damage for approval or denial in closed session, Morgan Hill Assistant City Attorney Cynthia Hasson said the body is not required to take action.
State law allows civil claimants to follow up local claims for damages with a lawsuit in the courts if the city denies the claim. In this case, the city has not denied or approved the claim, and the teen’s attorneys said they have not filed a lawsuit in court.
City Attorney Donald Larkin declined to comment on the claim because of the pending nature of the litigation.
Attorneys at the Jachimowicz Law Group said they and the Morgan Hill City Attorney’s office took care not to risk a conflict of interest over the fact that one of their attorneys, Caitlin Jachimowicz, was a sitting city councilmember at the time of the accidental shooting incident. Jachimowicz served on the council from January 2017 until November 2018. She was appointed to fill the seat left empty with the retirement of former Councilmember Gordon Siebert, and declined to seek election to stay on the council in November 2018.
Albie Jachimowicz said his firm worked with the city attorney’s office and an outside firm hired by the city to figure out how “to avoid any perception of impropriety, even though this was not legally necessary.” Through these discussions, “a decision was made that the best course of action was to agree that no legal proceedings would be undertaken during her tenure” on the council, Albie Jachimowicz said. “Caitlin Jachimowicz was not a participant in any discussion whatsoever regarding this matter, and no longer sits as a member of the city council.”
Caitlin Jachimowicz said she immediately disclosed her family firm’s involvement in the case as soon as the teen and her family hired them. She has not been involved in any of her firm’s work on the case. She added that city officials and the Jachimowicz firm agreed she should be “firewalled” from the case, meaning she has been excluded from all communications between the city and her firm regarding the accidental shooting case. That firewall will continue until the case is resolved, she said.