Family files wrongful death lawsuit against Kern County Sheriff’s office

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BORON, Calif. (KGET) – A Boron family claims two Kern County Sheriff’s deputies used excessive and improper use of force very similar as in the case of George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died after a police officer placed a knee on Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time. The family of Nicholas Lovett claims that Lovett also died much the same way as Floyd while being held down by two deputies who were trying to restrain him.

“Their actions in this case lead to Nick Lovett’s death plain and simple,” said Michael Carrillo, an attorney from Los Angeles who represents Lovett’s family and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against deputies Nicholas Evans and Todd Newell, the Kern County Sheriff’s office and the county of Kern.

On December 13, 2017 Evans and Newell responded to 911 calls from neighbors about a man who was on the street yelling, apparently hallucinating, threatening people and attempting to break into a home in Boron. Deputies Evans and Newell responded and confronted the 29-year-old Lovett who initially complied with orders to get on the ground. Things then went bad. According to sheriff’s reports, Lovett resisted being handcuffed and both deputies had to use force to handcuff and restrain him.

“Deputies used extremely minimal amount of force just to try to overcome the resistance,” said Kern County Sheriff’s Sgt. David Hubbard in an interview shortly after the incident. Not everyone quiet sees it that way, however.

“The (deputy) had his knee on his back and his other knee on his back and the other one was on his back, ” said neighbor Linda Caywood who said she witnessed the confrontation. “There was no way he could breath and they were on top of him for a long time.” Caywood said she knows Lovett’s family and said he had drug issues. A sheriff’s report states Caywoood told investigators that prior to the confrontation with deputies, Lovett had tried to break into her home looking for his mother.

The confrontation was caught on video by a neighbor’s security camera. The video shows Lovett lying prone on the ground while the two deputies are on top of him as they try to handcuff him. A neighbor intervenes and helps the deputies restrain Lovett by holding down his legs. According to the sheriff’s report Lovett was yelling, “Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!” while deputy Evans responds they were trying to help him. Deputy Newell told investigators he placed his body weight on Lovett for “two to five” seconds, never laid a hand on him and “briefly” used his knee to secure Lovett to handcuff him. Yet the video shows Newell on top of Lovett for much longer than two to five seconds.

An autopsy revealed Lovett tested positive for methamphetamine at a level high enough that can cause hallucinations, aggressive behavior, circulatory collapse and convulsions. The autopsy ruled Lovett’s death an accident and the cause of death as methamphetamine intoxication.

But an independent report comes to a very different conclusion. Dr. Ronald O’Halloran former Chief Medical Examiner of Ventura County hired by Lovett’s family classifies the death as a homicide. “The cumulative evidence indicates that asphyxia by chest compression was the primary and probable cause of death,” writes O’Hallaron in his independent report. It goes on to say, “The decedent, while under the influence of methamphetamine, died from asphxia during a struggle while being restrained by deputy sheriffs and a civilian.”

An investigation by ex Kern County District Lisa Green ruled deputies were justified in their use of force and declined to file any charges. The Sheriff’s Office declined to make any comment on the wrongful death lawsuit and referred the matter to Kern County Counsel Office, which said it does not comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court and is expected to go to trail in February, 2021.

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