A California gun manufacturer shares responsibility in a Riverside area womans death for selling the gun she had on her lap when fatally shot by police, the city of Riverside has charged in a lawsuit filed last month, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Lorcin Engineering Co. should be named as a co-defendant along with the city in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Tyisha Millers family, said Skip Miller, the citys attorney.
As reported earlier in Gun Week, Miller, 19, a black woman from nearby Ribidoux, was fatally shot by four white Riverside police officers as she sat inside a locked, idling car at a Riverside gas station on Dec. 28, 1998. Her friends had called 911 after Miller appeared to be unresponsive and in need of medical attention.
Responding officers said they shot the woman in self-defense after she reached for the gun on her lap. They were subsequently fired from the police department for the tactics they used in the shooting.
But Miller did not fire the gun, and investigators later determined that it was inoperable.
Despite that, the city contended Lorcin is responsible for negligently marketing and distributing the .38-caliber gun in her possession. Lorcin also failed to educate or train users regarding the safe and correct way to use guns, the suit claims.
"We think they bear significant responsibility," said Miller, no relation to the woman.
Lorcin officials were unavailable for comment as the case broke.
Meanwhile supporters of Tyisha Miller said the city was trying to shift blame from the officers who shot her to the gun manufacturer.
"I think what is unfortunate is that they are using a legitimate concern, that being gun control, to serve an illegitimate purpose, which is damage control," said Rev. Jesse Wilson, chairman of the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee.
The city, however, maintains the shooting was preventable.
"This whole thing would not have occurred but for the presence of this loaded Lorcin L380," Skip Miller said. "That gun should never have been there.
"The city is not trying to pass the buck," he added. "The city has stepped up and taken full responsibility . . . This whole thing was not entirely caused by the city."
Lorcin, which has been criticized for making guns that sell for less than $100 each, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October 1996 with $1.08 million in assets and about $4.2 million in liabilities. However, Skip Miller disclosed last month that the company is not bankrupt.
Meanwhile Bruce Jennings, owner of B.L. Jennings, a gun distribution company, said he faxed a copy of the lawsuit to James Waldorf, a former Lorcin president and chief executive officer. Waldorf was unavailable to comment on the latest suit, Jennings said.
The company and several other gun manufacturers have been sued in the past over allegations that they marketed handguns irresponsibly.
Waldorf has said that he was forced to close the Mira Loma plant of Lorcin Engineering in 1999 because of the legal claims. The lawsuits facing the company were intended to drive up the cost of all guns, he said.
In March, Waldorf said Lorcin had successfully thwarted off claims by various governments against his company.
"Every single claim against Lorcin was dismissed, but at a very expensive cost of $100,000 here, $100,000 there," in legal fees, Waldorf said at the time. Waldorf has since started a company in Nevada.
With its announcement, Riverside joins 30 cities across the country in filing suits against gunmakers. The April action also represented the latest in a string of legal maneuvers by the city stemming from the womans death. In addition to Riverside, two of the officers who shot Miller and their supervisor are named in the suit against Lorcin.
"This is nothing new, nothing different," Jennings said of the latest suit. "Its exactly the same allegations of the other 30 lawsuits brought on by cities against gun manufacturers the past two years that have cost the firearms industry tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, in attorney fees."
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