Tulare County, California, has agreed to settle a wrongful death claim made against one of its detectives for one and a half million dollars.
Zachary Allen Atkinson was shot on September 12, 2008, around 3 p.m. by Detective William Seymour. Seymour had stopped Atkinson while driving an unmarked patrol car, and was not in uniform at the time of the stop. Seymour said that he had pulled Atkinson over because the motorcycle Atkinson was driving matched the description of a vehicle that had been stolen.
Seymour filed reports that Atkinson had begun to struggle with him shortly after being pulled over. The detective testified that he shot Atkinson out of fear for his personal safety.
However, this account was disputed by an attorney for Atkinson’s family, who said that eyewitnesses and several others were prepared to dispute this case.
Specifically, the attorney for the plaintiffs stated that Atkinson had been shot in the back, making it difficult to believe that he had been actively threatening the officer. Further, no weapon whatsoever was found on Atkinson, who was shot twice – once in the buttock, once in the middle of the back, the second shot proving fatal.
The Sheriff’s department that employs Seymour produced a report saying that Atkinson and Seymour were stopped at the same red light, and that Atkinson abruptly ran the red light, which prompted the chase. This seems to conflict with Seymour’s claim that it was seeing the vehicle corresponded to a stolen motorcycle that prompted him to pull Atkinson over.
Witnesses to the event dispute these findings completely. Specifically, eyewitness testimony stated that Atkinson and Seymour were having a casual conversation at the light, and that Seymour only attacked Atkinson when the latter reached into his pocket in order to produce ID when asked. Further, there was testimony that Seymour was actively choking Atkinson at one point, and that the latter got free to run, and was 15 feet away when Seymour shot him, rather than in the middle of a struggle.
With findings such as these, it isn’t much of a surprise that the department chose to settle rather than continue to defend the indefensible.