Janet Williams, mother of Dennis “Todd” Rogers, who was slain by L.A. County Sheriffs deputies on March 8, becomes overwhelmed as she discusses her federal civil rights lawsuit filed July 31. Williams is flanked by family members and her attorney Peter Morris.
(Photo courtesy of Akeila R. Muhammad)

The mother of a slain man who suffered from mental illness has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the L.A. Sheriffs Department and city of Los Angeles.

Janet Williams claims deputies shot Dennis “Todd” Rogers unnecessarily due to a lack of proper training.  She also claimed they killed her son based solely on the color of his skin and his mental condition.

Mr. Rogers, an aspiring actor, was asked to leave a 24 Hour Fitness gym located in the 5000 block of Slauson Avenue, which he did, according to the complaint filed on July 31 in U.S. District Court.

According to an LASD press release, deputies were called back to the gym because the father of three (ages 14, 15 and 20) was causing a disturbance and displaying erratic behavior.

Deputies attempted to shock the unarmed man with stun guns, and he made no offensive moves toward the deputies, according to the complaint.

Then, without any legal justification, deputies opened fire and killed him, the document continued.

Williams said she learned about her son’s death a week later.

Family photo of 41-year-old Dennis “Todd”Rogers (family Courtesy photo)

“He suffered some mental illness, early on when he was younger. The thing with Todd was, this particular time, he didn’t have the money to pay for his medication, so he was off his medication. If he was off of it for a little bit of time, he would kind of get antsy, nothing aggressive,” Williams said.

She said her son would talk to himself, and if he got hyper, she would talk him out of an episode; but that particular time, he had lost his cell phone.

When they spoke the day before he was killed, Rogers told her his car had been towed or stolen with his phone and laptop computer inside, Williams said.

“Usually when he comes into something like that, he would definitely call me because he calls me 3-4 times a day,” Williams said.  She was waiting for his call.  She knew something was wrong, she stated during a press conference outside of U.S. District Court on July 31.

According to the LASD, deputies responded to a disturbance call at the gym at 8:35 p.m., and escorted Rogers off the property.  They were called back in two hours, and found Rogers was “uncooperative and became aggressive towards the deputies” with a weapon he pulled from his backpack.  Deputies tased him several times before firing.

“The only thing we have heard is newspaper accounts.  We have not heard from the deputies at all or the Sheriffs Department about what happened. That’s why we filed the lawsuit,” said Atty. Peter Morris, Williams’ lawyer.

“So, as far as the notion of tasering, the notion that Todd was aggressive, or anything else that the Sheriffs Department reported, we do not know if any of that is accurate,” Morris said.

He added, “Here’s what we do know: Todd was unarmed, and the death certificate states that he died of multiple gun shot wounds … I believe what’s reported is that Todd had electric scissors, which you use to cut your hair.  We don’t know if that’s true, but we believe that’s meaningless to multiple deputies shooting and killing.”

They want to know if the deputies even called mental health clinicians connected to the LASD, Morris said.

Attorney Peter Morris outlines details of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of his client, Janet Williams in the fatal shooting of her son Dennis “Todd” Rogers by L.A. County Sheriffs on March 8. (Photo Akeila R. Muhammad)

“Less lethal force was attempted more than once prior to the shooting incident which involved an individual who was swinging hair clippers at a deputy’s head. We have not received the lawsuit and will reserve comment on pending litigation,” stated Nicole Nishida, LASD public information officer.

According to Nishida, deputies at the scene called the Mental Evaluation Team (MET) for assistance.  A MET team consists of a deputy and a mental health clinician, each with specialized training to identify, evaluate and de-escalate the most difficult and high risk 911 calls for service involving someone experiencing a mental health crisis, she said.

Williams is asking for punitive damages against the individual deputies.  She wants a jury to make an example of each by holding them financially accountable to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

“When you’re trained in mental health, you won’t be afraid of a person. My son, I can tell from the video and the clips, I could see that he was scared … If they just had an experienced person there that knew how to talk to him, he would have calmed down,” said Williams.