Man shot by Laguna Beach police claims officers were negligent

Laguna Beach police officers provide medical aid to Tobiah Paul Steinmetz of Jupiter, Florida following a pursuit that ended at North Coast Highway and Nyes Place on March 11. Photo courtesy of Marielena Verdugo.

A man shot by Laguna Beach police officers following a March vehicle pursuit has filed a claim alleging negligent use of potentially deadly force.

Tobiah Paul Steinmetz of Jupiter, Florida claims that when he attempted to exit his vehicle on Coast Highway near Nyes Place officers opened fire on him for “no justifiable reason.”

“Upon information and belief, at no time whatsoever did Tobiah Steinmetz present an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to Laguna Beach Police Department officers,” the claim states.

Steinmetz also argues the Department exhibited negligent tactics, hiring, and training.

The claim was filed on May 2 by Montebello-based law firm Guizar, Henderson & Carrazco, LLP. City staffers recommended the City Council deny the claim at its June 15 meeting. Such claims are usually a precursor to lawsuits.

A Laguna Beach officer attempted to stop a vehicle at Smithcliffs and South Coast Highway around 6:19 p.m on March 11. The driver did not stop and struck two vehicles as he fled into Newport Beach, police said.

The driver turned the car around and headed south into Laguna Beach. An officer used a maneuver to disable the fleeing vehicle. Police shot the driver as he was exiting the vehicle, former Laguna Beach police chief Robert Thompson said in a March press release.

Steinmetz did not threat officers with a weapon, according to the claim. It is not clear what prompted police to open fire. Steinmetz was taken to a local hospital in critical condition.

No officers or bystanders were injured, including the drivers of the two vehicles that were struck at the beginning of the pursuit, police said.

Steinmetz pleaded not guilty to multiple felonies including the unlawful taking of a vehicle, evading a peace officer and reckless driving, evading a peace officer driving in the opposite direction of traffic, and resisting an executive officer. He also faces a misdemeanor charge for hit and run with property damage, according to court records.

If convicted on all changes, Steinmetz faces three years and eight months in state prison, plus 180 days in Orange County jail, said Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

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