LAX Shooting Case Removed to Federal Court

The wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles Fire Department and five other defendants arising out of the shooting of a Transportation Security Administration agent at Los Angeles International Airport in 2013 has been removed to federal court.

TSA officer Gerardo Ismael Hernandez was shot and killed while working at LAX on November 1, 2013. His wife originally filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court naming the Los Angeles World Airports, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the Airport Police at LAX, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The suit claims that LAFD and the other defendants:

  • were acting within the course and scope of that agency, partnership, conspiracy, and/or employment and with the permission and consent of each of their co-Defendants, and were, in some way, negligently or otherwise, responsible for the events herein alleged.
  • Plaintiffs sustained injury and damages proximately caused by Defendants, and each of them, at all times relevant, as a result of Defendants’ negligence negligence, action, inaction, ownership, maintenance, negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent retention of unfit employees, contracting, management, and operation, of their respective agencies, departments and duties.
  • Los Angeles Fire Department … failed to properly hire, train, and supervise their agents, partners, co-conspirators, contractors, subcontractors, and/or employees. Further, Defendants did not properly hire, train, or supervise personnel to assess emergency situations so as to properly and timely secure LAX, timely summon medical aid, protect travelers, protect employees, or others.
  • Defendants, and ·each of them, did not follow incident command basics and as a result Defendants failed to secure the terminal so that first responders could enter.
  • Hernandez lay wounded approximately 20 feet from an exit without medical attention for more than thirty minutes.
  • Hernandez was in immediate need of medical attention. Defendants wrongfully, negligently, intentionally, and/or with a deliberate indifference to Hernandez’s rights and safety, failed to timely summon and/or provide medical assistance to Hernandez.
  • This delay in seeking and providing medical assistance demonstrated a conscious disregard for Hernandez’s medical condition, and was a contributing factor in Hernandez’s death.
  • Further, Defendants, and each of them, had an inadequate victim extraction plan in place at the time of the incident. Defendants’ training was inadequate and deficient, Defendants failed to train service workers, and Defendants failed to include all airport personnel in emergency drills. There existed inadequate emergency response training to respond effectively to active shooter scenarios, there was a lack of specialized training for workers who perform security functions, there were inadequate emergency response and evacuation drills, and an unreliable emergency infrastructure.
  • Several years prior to this incident, the mayoral committee disclosed and Defendants failed to rectify significant deficiencies, including but not limited to, a lack of standardized approaches to response times for incidents; a failure to implement recommendations requiring law enforcement officer presence within 300 feet of TSA screening stations; a failure to implement recommendations to allow police access to closed-circuit TVs; a lack of definitive standards of operating procedures between law enforcement officers and TSA; a failure to provide tools, equipment and resources for law enforcement officers to better perform their jobs.
  • It was also found that airport management at LAX had not balanced policing and security with their ambitions to physically expand the airport; failed to timely implement and address RAND findings for enhancing security which were presented and recommended in 2004 and 2006, including updated technology systems; and failed to remedy insufficient and ineffective coordination and communication between agencies and Defendants.

Another interesting allegation:

  • $49 million in policing funds were illegally diverted by Defendants according to the U. S. Department of Transportation Inspector General. Plaintiffs allege the diverted funds were earmarked for and should have been used to increase security personnel, improve security, improve response time, and update antiquated equipment and services.

While the original complaint appears to have been drafted carefully to avoid alleging any federal claims, the removal was based on the fact that the shooting of n on-duty TAS agent at an airport implicates 18 U.S.C. § 37 in so far as “a person who unlawfully and intentionally, using any device, substance, or weapon—perform[ed] an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that cause[d] or is likely to cause serious bodily injury . . . or death . . . .”

Here is a copy of the complaint: Machuca v Los Angeles

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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