Kenzie Bakr breathed a sigh of relief as the judge. The 21-year-old self-described “band geek” friend of Zac Champommier was a little pessimistic that the judge would rule against the memory of her friend.
“I am relieved,” Bakr said after hearing , U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald award $2 million to the mother and $1 million to the father in the case of her Granada Hills Charter High School friend who was mistakenly shot to death by an undercover federal agent in a Studio City parking lot.
Zac’s grandmother, other friends and relatives who have done candlelight vigils in the parking lot on the anniversary of the shooting June 24 each year since 2010.
Carol Champommier and Eric Avery Feldman against the U.S. government, seeking between $8 and $10 million in damages for the loss of their 18-year-old son, who lived with Champommier in Porter Ranch.
Police were in plainclothes from various agencies doing a debriefing in the parking lot of Studio City behind Chipotle’s restaurant and police said he tried to run down an officer with his mother's Toyota. The parents were saying that it was too busy at the 12100 block of Ventura Boulevard near the Vons market at the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Laurel Canyon at 9:30 p.m.
Judge Fitzgerald in his ruling said Zac “posed no threat to the officers, the use of deadly force was not justified,” and he pointed out that the officers should have identified themselves before firing.
"This is a terrible tragedy that came from a freakish series of events," the judge said. "The shooting was, in fact, a mistake."
On the ride down the elevator after the judge’s ruling, Champommier listed to her attorney Gary Dordick explain how the judge’s ruling was fair, but that a jury of peers would have awarded more money. The case wasn’t eligible for being presented before a jury.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said prosecutors want to appeal: "The ruling does not change our position that Champommier struck a Los Angeles (County) Sheriff's Department deputy with his car," and the federal agent who fired "reasonably used deadly force to deal with the dangerous situation."
Zac was shot when he was driving slowly through the parking lot and either lost control, or became scared of the officers when he was looking for an acquaintance he met online. Zac was shot by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent after he accidentally struck sheriff's deputy Mark Brewster, who was part of a task force that had just completed a drug raid.
The 16th floor courtroom on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles was packed.
"There really was no danger to Deputy Brewster ... or any officers that were on the lot," the judge said, adding that if the officers had identified themselves, Champommier would have stopped the car and followed instructions.
He was "legitimately fearful for his life" and "unaware these were law enforcement officers" when he attempted to drive away, Fitzgerald said.
His mother, who had custody, was awarded $2 million in damages and about $6,172.61 for burial expenses. The judge awarded $1 million to Feldman.
The father had asked for more of a percentage, but in testimony, the father and son were estranged, and the judge ruled that Zac would “never be as significant to his father than the mother” who was “central to his life.”
"I miss my son every single day," his mother said outside court. "It's not the dollar amount -- an officer cannot use deadly force just because he imagines a threat."
The judge did not find that the officers were negligent in having the debriefing in such a public space, not did he find any conspiracy or cover-up. “To debrief in the parking lot is permissible,” the judge ruled.
The mom, a first grade teacher from Beckford Avenue Elementary in Northridge, said she still hasn't cleaned up Zac's room since that last day she saw him. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to do it," she told Studio City Patch. "That's a hard one, I still feel his presence."
She takes Zac's ashes sometimes on trips with her, continuing the close relationship they had in life.
The mom said her son "lost his life for no good reason."