Family of slain firefighter can proceed with most claims against LA County, judge rules

CHATSWORTH — The widow and children of a Los Angeles County Fire Department engineer shot to death by a colleague at the Agua Dulce Station in 2021 can move forward with most of their lawsuit against the county, needing only to shore up their civil rights claim, a judge has ruled.

The Chatsworth Superior Court lawsuit was brought in January 2022 by Heidi Carlon, who was married to the late 44-year-old Tory Carlon; her adult daughter, Joslyn Carlon; and Heidi Carlon’s two other daughters, who are both minors.

Carlon was working at Station No. 81 on Sierra Highway on June 1, 2021, when 45-year-old Jonathan Patrick Tatone, who also was an engineer but was off duty, arrived and an argument ensued, authorities said. Tatone subsequently shot Carlon, who later died, and county Fire Capt. Arnie Sandoval, who survived.

Tatone left for his Acton residence, which he set on fire before shooting himself to death. The Carlon family suit names as defendants the county and Tatone’s estate.

After hearing arguments Monday on the county’s motion to dismiss the portion of the case against the county, Judge Stephen P. Pfahler took the case under submission, then ruled later in the day that the family can proceed with their claims for wrongful death and negligence.

“The court finds the operative language sufficient for purposes of establishing a basis of liability based on conduct arising out the decedents’ working relationship and the violent eruption was the direct result of workplace disputes,” the judge wrote.

The cause of action for civil rights violations, however, will need more details, according to the judge.

“The operative complaint remains vague and uncertain; the murder itself was not a state action and the operative complaint lacks a claim of an actual interference with constitutional rights,” according to the judge, who gave the plaintiffs 30 days to file an amended complaint.

In her court papers seeking dismissal of the case, defense attorney Mira Hashmall argued that the county does not have liability due to governmental immunity and workers’ compensation rules.

“Indeed, Plaintiff Heidi Carlon has already filed a workers’ compensation claim … so she cannot argue that workers’ compensation does not apply,” Hashmall stated in her court papers.

Hashmall further stated that the county has governmental immunity and that there was “no duty owed to Carlon by the county,” which she maintains defeats the family’s negligence claim.

Hashmall’s arguments were challenged in court papers filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Tatone was an open wound in Fire Station 81, left to fester and infect for years by Los Angeles County Fire Department leadership who chose to ignore, normalize and ratify Tatone’s dangerous conduct,” the Carlon family members’ lawyers argue in their court papers. “Carlon and others consistently warned the county of Los Angeles that Tatone was unhinged and dangerous.”

Tatone’s superiors, knowing of his dangerous propensities, spoke to him about his threatening behavior toward Carlon, the plaintiffs’ attorneys state in their court papers. Nonetheless, supervisors of Tatone and Carlon assigned the pair to work together regardless of Tatone’s threatening behavior, the Carlon family lawyers further state in their court papers.

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