By Lisa Keller of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP posted in police misconduct on Thursday, June 6, 2019.
In January a federal jury determined that Deputy Michael Higgins used excessive force and awarded $360,000 in damages to Connor’s mother, Kimberly Zion. HSR attorney Dan Stormer argued for a larger settlement, and the board, in a 4-0 vote, awarded an additional $740,000, increasing the award to $1.1 million.
HSR attorney Dan Stormer said, “You always have mixed feelings at the end of a case in which someone was killed…One million dollars seems like a lot of money, but it’s money being spent because police chiefs keep allowing their officers to use excessive force.”
Connor Zion was experiencing a mental breakdown when he was killed in September 2013 outside his apartment in Laguna Niguel. OC deputy Higgins shot Connor 9 times, then approached Connor as he lay on the ground and shot him 9 more times point blank. He then backed up, ran at Connor and stomped repeatedly on the prone man’s head, fracturing his skull.
The county’s motion for summary judgement in the case was granted in October 2015 and Higgins was given a Medal of Valor, but upon appeal, a lower court panel decided that a jury should determine whether excessive force was used in the second set of shots and the subsequent head stomping. The 9th circuit then concluded that “a jury could reasonably find that Higgins knew or easily could have determined that he had already rendered Zion harmless.” Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the opinion. “If so, a reasonable jury could also conclude that Higgins was acting out of anger or emotion rather than any legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
Higgins “had a responsibility not only to his partner, but to my son,” Kimberly Zion said, referring to Higgins’ testimony that he acted to save the life of his partner…I don’t think he acted in an honorable manner.”
This puts to rest a very, very difficult period in [Kimberly Zion’s] life,” Stormer said. “No amount of money can compensate for the loss of Connor, but it does show a recognition on the part of the county of its obligation. These deputies, in my opinion, were completely out of control and instead of punishing them, they rewarded them with medals. That can’t be changed, but this public acknowledgment of this large sum of money is very important as a recognition of the harm.”