Having handled excessive-force claims against police for three decades, Newport Beach-based attorney Jerry Steering says he had never seen a more outrageous case of a cop committing a public execution than the September 2013 death of Connor Zion, a 21-year-old Laguna Niguel resident.
Nobody absolves Zion, a talented dancer who was in the midst of a severe epileptic seizure, from creating a dangerous situation when he grabbed a sharp kitchen knife and began babbling. Both his mother, Kimberly, and his roommate, who initiated a 911 call, received cuts while trying to take the weapon away. Zion then ran outside and stabbed responding Orange County sheriff’s deputy Juan Lopez in both arms.
Likewise, nobody, not even Steering, blames deputy Michael Higgins for initially firing his Glock 9mm pistol at Zion.
“Concern for the safety of Deputy Lopez, myself and others in the community, including [a] woman who was with her dog, I started firing at the suspect,” Higgins memorialized in a statement for the sheriff’s team of private, Los Angeles-based lawyers. “The suspect, still in possession of the knife, began to retreat toward one of the residences as I continued to fire.”
This is where the officer’s story gets puzzling.
From a distance of just 8 feet to 10 feet, Higgins, who considers himself a decent shot, unloaded nine bullets at Zion. Some of the projectiles struck Zion’s back and ripped through his body, shattering bones. He fell to the apartment-complex sidewalk, a fact you might easily assume was the result of being repeatedly shot by a powerful handgun at close range.
But the deputy’s story temporarily suspended common sense and the laws of physics. To fight a wrongful-death lawsuit, Higgins claimed, “I could not be certain whether any of the shots actually impacted the suspect,” a scenario meant to justify what happened next.
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