SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — An Orange County Sheriff’s deputy was hailed as a hero for stopping a crazed knife-wielding suspect in 2013.
But a federal jury now finds the hero used excessive force in subduing the man. And they ruled Orange County must now pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution to the man’s mother.
Connor Zion’s family cherished his talent and his life.
Zion’s life was cut short in a controversial encounter with deputies.
Dash cam video captured the sounds of the first round of gunshots. He is seen running around a patrol car and a deputy fires another round.
You see the deputy — Michael Higgins — stomp Zion’s head three times.
“The police are not trained to stomp victims into unconsciousness, especially after they’ve been shot 13 times,” says Brian Olney, an attorney for the plaintiff’s family.
Olney told KCAL9’s Nicole Comstock that Zion was having a mental health crisis and the situation should never have escalated the way it did.
“A heinous, vicious, brutal act,” Olney says.
Deputies maintain that Zion had already cut his mother and his roommate with a 12-inch knife. Then he chased a neighbor around a condo complex with the same knife.
Zion then attacked a sheriff’s deputy, severely wounding him.
That’s when they say Higgins fatally shot him and stomped on him and then went to help his colleague.
“The officer was acting out of anger and not out of any need to enforce public safety,” Olney says.
Deputy Higgins was later awarded the department’s Medal of Valor for his actions.
“That deputy did exactly what he was expected to do when he pinned on that badge,” says Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s.
This week, after six years of court battles, the federal jury decided that Higgings’ actions added up to excessive force.
The jury awarded Zion’s mother $360,000.
“This shows that the police are not above the law,” Olney says.
The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s contends that Higgins went above and beyond to answer his call of duty.
“In the department’s view and in the community’s view he’s a hero. He saved the life of the deputy. He saved the lives of countless members of the community,” says Dominguez.
He says the 23-second encounter was discussed and examined and re-examined over a period of two weeks.
“The jury had countless hours to deliberate it. We don’t have that luxury in law Enforcement. We have to make decisions in seconds,” Dominguez says.
Olney told Comstock that Zion’s mother remains so distraught from losing her son, she still has never seen the dash cam video.