(LOS ANGELES) — Deon Jones, a man shot in the face with a rubber bullet during one of many mass protests in 2020, is speaking out after a federal jury found an LAPD officer liable for Jones’ injuries and awarded him $375,000.
“I’m just grateful that we had a jury that decided in our favor. I believe that they saw the truth,” Jones told ABC News.
The landmark verdict is believed to be the first time an individual LAPD officer was held personally liable for his alleged actions.
On May 30, 2020, Jones said he had been marching with a friend in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District in the wake of George Floyd’s death, when they decided to move to a less chaotic location — a Trader Joe’s parking lot.
“We found ourselves in an area closer to the Trader Joe’s in a crowd of people who were either recording, had their hands up or doing nothing at all. And then you have a police officer fire into that crowd,” Jones said.
Peter Bueno, a veteran officer and a member of the LAPD’s elite metropolitan division, denies shooting Jones. He testified that he shot at an unidentified protester who threw a water bottle at him.
A rubber bullet fractured Jones’ cheekbone, but it came close to having a far worse outcome, Jones said.
“I’m reminded of what my ophthalmologist said. He said, ‘If the bullet was an inch to the left, it would have hit your temple. If it was an inch to the right, you would have been blind.’ So I would have been dead or blind,” Jones said.
During the trial, the jury was shown body camera images from various officers that day and an enhanced body camera video, which Jones’ attorney provided to ABC News with highlights. The defense argued the images proved it was Bueno who fired in the direction of Jones and other protesters.
Jones’ attorneys said the case might set a precedent when it comes to similar cases in the future.
“We now have an example with our case, that you can take it all the way. We have an example that officers cannot brutalize peaceful protesters,” Jones said.
Orin Synder, Jones’ lead attorney, told ABC News the verdict represents vindication in a broader context.
“Protest is part of the fabric of our democracy. It is essential to our democracy. And if protesters fear excessive police force during peaceful demonstrations, it will chill essential First Amendment activity. The verdict makes clear that there will be accountability going forward if officers violate the constitutional rights of protesters,” Synder said.
Bueno, a member of the department for more than 25 years, is still on the force. Following an internal investigation, he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
While the LAPD declined to comment, Bueno’s attorney, Janine Jeffery, said her client plans to appeal the verdict.
In a statement, Jeffery said, in part, “We respectfully disagree with the jury’s decision. For over one year after the incident, Mr. Jones gave a description of Officer Bueno that was not even close to Officer Bueno’s physical appearance … Furthermore, Officer Bueno was in a very different location than the person identified by Mr. Jones and Jones’ expert as the shooter … These inconsistencies, combined with the inaccurate description and location of Officer Bueno demonstrates that Officer Bueno did not shoot Mr. Jones.”
The second phase of the lawsuit will examine Jones’ claims that the city of Los Angeles and LAPD should be held accountable for police’s response to peaceful protests.
“We are looking for systemic change… It shouldn’t happen to me. It shouldn’t happen to anybody,” Jones said.
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