By BILL HETHERMAN | City News Service
VAN NUYS – A Los Angeles police officer was 50 feet away from a knife-wielding Ukranian emigre when he fatally shot the knife-wielding man in a Tarzana intersection in 2020, according to new court papers filed by attorneys representing the man’s parents, who allege in a lawsuit against the city that their son did not pose a threat to officers and that they should have known he was mentally ill.
Sergey Rusanofskiy and Irina Rusanovskaya, the father and mother of Alex Rusanovskiy, brought the lawsuit in December 2020, alleging wrongful death, assault, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and civil rights violations.
“This is a civil rights wrongful death case concerning the tragic and horrific death of a 31-year-old, Alex Rusanovskiy, who was suffering from a severe mental illness when he was needlessly shot several times, once in the face and once in the knee,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys stated in a filing Friday with Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Valerie Salkin in advance of a scheduled March 3 mandatory settlement conference.
The suit alleges that the officers knew or should have known that Rusanovskiy suffered from “mental psychosis” and were aware that he had a pre-existing mental illness, but they made no reasonable attempt to de-escalate the situation and never used non-lethal force, deciding instead without provocation to shoot Rusanovskiy multiple times.
Rusanovskiy was more than 50 feet away from LAPD Officer Steven Pressler when the first shot was fired 11 seconds after the officer and his partner arrived at about 6:15 a.m. Aug. 7, 2020, the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ brief states.
Pressler fired his weapon despite the fact that his partner had a beanbag shotgun ready for use and additional officers were seconds from arrival, according to the brief.
But in their court papers, lawyers for the city state that upon encountering Rusanovskiy in the middle of Reseda and Victory boulevards, Pressler told the man multiple times to drop the knife.
“Instead of complying, the decedent raised his knife, screamed, and ran directly at Officer Pressler, at which point to protect his life, Officer Pressler fired two rounds,” according to the court papers of the lawyers for the city, which further state that the man died later at a hospital.
Nine people called 911 to report a man walking around in the middle of the street with a large knife and that information was relayed to Pressler, who subsequently saw the man with the weapon, according to the court papers of the lawyers representing the city.
Rusanovskiy was born in Ukraine in 1988, and was 7 years old when his family came to the United States for a better life, according to the court papers. An only child, he was a ballet dancer, attended Fairfax High School and Valley College, dreamed of owning his own business, had a license to appraise diamonds and was working to get his real estate license, according to his family’s attorneys’ court papers.
Rusanovskiy visited his parents five days before his death and told his mother he was nervous about finances and his inability to find work during the coronavirus pandemic, the plaintiffs’ lawyers state. He later was hospitalized because of his anxiety, but still had trouble sleeping, according to the court papers.
Rusanovskiy left his parents’ home at about 6 a.m. the morning of the shooting with his mother chasing and trying to speak to him, but he could not understand her, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ court papers.