February 7, 2018

Lauren Gray, NCLR 
lgray@nclrights.org / (215) 983-3099
David Colker, ACLU dcolker@aclusocal.org / (213) 977-5242 or 626-755-4129 (cell)

California Court Denies Child’s Wrongful Death Claim for Parent Tasered by Police

NCLR, ACLU, and LA LGBTQ Center File Brief in Support of Child

LOS ANGELES—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), ACLU Foundation of Southern California, ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, and legal scholars filed an amicus brief this week in California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal in support of the minor plaintiff in A.G. v. County of Los Angeles.

The brief argues that the Los Angeles Superior Court ruling denying A.G.’s wrongful death claim violates both the U.S. and California Constitutions by discriminating against children with legal parents who are not biological or adoptive parents. Although the parents in this case were a different-sex couple, the trial court’s ruling would have far-reaching negative effects on children with same-sex parents. It would also be devastating for children conceived using assisted reproduction. 

“The Superior Court’s decision is not only unconstitutional but could set a devastating precedent for the children of same-sex parents,” said NCLR Family Law Director Catherine Sakimura. “The court’s role here, in the face of unspeakable tragedy, is to follow the law and ensure this man’s surviving children are cared for—not to diminish and unravel family ties. The lower court decision has no basis in the law. We must do better.”

A.G.’s complaint states that on January 6, 2015, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department entered A.G.’s father’s home and used a Taser on his father, who was mentally ill, because he would not stop singing in his bathroom. A.G.’s father died as a result. The California Superior Court improperly dismissed A.G.’s wrongful death claim solely because A.G.’s father was not his biological or adoptive father, even though he was A.G.’s presumed legal father under California law.

“We’re urging the Court of Appeal to correct the lower court’s error and make clear that California law recognizes the rights of people who take on the role and fulfill the responsibilities of parents, like A.G.’s father,” said Amanda Goad, LGBTQ Rights Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.  

Pickett had cared for A.G. as his son since infancy, treating A.G. and his biological children equally. Pickett described A.G. to family and to others as his son, having stated, “[w]e’re going to treat [A.G.] as though he is my biological son. I’m taking the role as his father.”

“This case has important repercussions for the LGBTQ community and the Center proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with NCLR and the ACLU as we fight to ensure that children are not considered second class citizens in their own homes,” said Center Director of Policy & Community Building Dave Garcia.

Wrongful death claims compensate surviving family members who have lost the care of the deceased. Denying legal children their ability to bring wrongful death actions leaves children like A.G. without financial security and unjustly creates a subset, or two classes of legal children.