A Los Angeles man was fatally shot in his home by deputies Thursday morning in a tragic domestic dispute call gone wrong. His family, however, insists the tragic incident could have been avoided if authorities didn’t prematurely pull the trigger.
Michael “Blue” Thomas, 62, was killed in his living room in the early hours on Thursday after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies responded to a domestic dispute call, a spokesperson told The Daily Beast. But while authorities claim Thomas was shot after reaching for one of the deputy’s guns, his fiancée and attorney insist the opposite—that he was turning away.
“They broke the front down and they grabbed Mr. Thomas immediately,” Bradley Gage, the family’s attorney, told The Daily Beast on Friday. “As they were holding him, they hurt him by twisting his arm. At that point, because he was uncomfortable, Mr. Thomas tried to move and one deputy just stepped back and shot him.”
“He was murdered without justification,” he added. “It was 100 percent avoidable.”
According to the Sheriff’s Department, deputies responded to a “domestic violence in progress call” in Lancaster at around 5:30 a.m. The 911 call was made by Thomas’s fiancée, Kimberly. She later told deputies she “was assaulted by the suspect,” according to a statement from authorities.
“During the call to 911, she never speaks to the operator but rather the phone line is left open,” the statement said. “For several minutes arguing and fighting between the caller and the suspect can be heard in the background.”
Once deputies arrived, authorities said they tried to detain Thomas, but he “refused to comply with the deputy’s orders and an altercation” ensued.
“During the altercation, the suspect reached down and attempted to gain control of one of the deputy’s firearms. It was at that time when a deputy-involved shooting occurred,” the statement said.
However, Gage said that Thomas did not own a weapon and was only having a verbal argument with his fiancée when police arrived—which police could have observed “from a window outside instead of barging in.” He said that Kimberly did not go into detail with him about why she initially called the police—but he noted that the pair had lived together for 21 years and often communicated loudly because she is “mostly deaf.”
“The claim that he reached for a gun is completely false,” Gage added, noting that the incident “completely defies the fourth amendment.” “He was disabled, he had problems with his hands. It would have been painful for him to try to grab a gun.”
In an interview with CBS Los Angeles, which first reported the shooting, Kimberly also said that Thomas never tried to grab one of the deputies’ guns. “I heard Michael say, ‘I have a right to not let you in the house,’” she said.
Authorities said Thomas was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No deputies were injured.
Gage, who has represented police officers and victims of officer-involved assaults for more than 35 years, stated that Thursday’s incident was a violation of the constitution. He was demanding accountability for all the officers involved. He said the officer who shot Thomas should be charged and the other deputies who were present should come forward and “admit the criminal act.”
“It’s time to take ownership,” Gage said.
The Sheriff’s Department told The Daily Beast that the Homicide Bureau, internal affairs and the county’s Office of the Inspector General are doing separate investigations—which is standard procedure during officer-involved shootings. It was not immediately clear if any of the officers involved had been disciplined for the Thursday incident.
The fatal shooting comes as residents in all 50 states have taken to the streets, engaging in both peaceful and destructive protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While demonstrators are speaking out against racial injustice and police brutality, many of them have been met with further violence from law enforcement. It has prompted several cities to confront the brutal methods used by their own police officers, many of them captured in harrowing video footage.
But for Gage, Thursday’s incident is another painful reminder that law enforcement reform has a long way to go.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if Mr. Thomas was white, he would be alive today,” he said.