Justice Not Served?

September 2, 2014 by Stephen Auerbach - 5 Comments

It’s a sad story all around and one that I’ve been tracking with an extra bit of interest because this tragedy happened only a few miles from my office. Last December a well known attorney and music business executive, Milt Olin, was struck from behind while riding his bicycle on the Mulholland Drive. The story became bigger news than ordinary because Mr. Olin was hit by a police officer in a police cruiser. The news finally emerged recently that the officer was typing on his dashboard computer at the time that he struck Olin. How this is substantially different than the unsafe practice of texting while driving is something I am unclear on. Nonetheless, the L.A. County Sherrif’s Dept has just decided that NO CHARGES will be filed against the Officer. Legally, it seems that are correct. I don’t necessarily believe in “an eye for an eye,” in this case, but it seems that something is not right and possibly the law needs to be changed as it applies to what Officers can do in their vehicles while on duty. Mr. Olin’s widow is in the process of launching the Milt Olin Foundation, dedicated to eliminating cycling-related fatalities and serious injuries through education, community awareness, collaboration and advocacy.

What do you think? Is this a miscarriage of justice?

Here is the full story:

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against a sheriff’s deputy who was apparently distracted by his mobile digital computer when he fatally struck cyclist Milton Olin Jr. in Calabasas in December, officials announced Wednesday.

Olin, a prominent entertainment attorney, was riding his bicycle in the 22400 block of Mulholland Highway when he was struck by L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood’s patrol car in the bicycle lane on the afternoon of Dec. 8. The former A&M Records and Napster executive reportedly landed on the windshield and shattered the glass before rolling off the patrol car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Milton Olin Jr., an entertainment attorney and former Napster executive who was killed Dec. 8, 2013 after his bicycle was struck by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s patrol car.

Wood, a 16-year department veteran, was returning from a fire call at Calabasas High School at the time of the collision.

“Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his (Mobile Digital Computer),” according to the declination letter prepared by the Justice System Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s Office and released Wednesday. “He was responding to a deputy who was inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed. Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under Vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully.”

The law does not prohibit officers from using an electronic wireless communications device in the performance of their duties, according to the letter. Furthermore, prosecutors said it was “reasonable” that Wood would have felt that an immediate response was necessary so that a Calabasas deputy wouldn’t unnecessarily respond to the high school.

To establish the crime of vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood was criminally negligent. While GPS records show the deputy was driving three miles per hour over the speed limit prior to the collision, investigators could not determine his speed at the time of impact. And while Wood was texting shortly before the collision, there was no evidence he was texting or doing anything else that would have distracted him at the time of the collision, according to the letter.

In fact, evidence indicates Wood’s personal cellphone was only in use while his patrol car was not in motion, the letter stated.

“Wood briefly took his eyes away from the road precisely when the narrow roadway curved slightly to the left without prior warning, causing him to inadvertently travel straight into the bike lane, immediately striking Olin,” the letter from the DA’s Office stated.

Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said he was disappointed to see a clearly distracted law enforcement officer escape charges on what he called a technicality.

“Just because the law allows someone to do something while driving doesn’t mean they are allowed to do something unsafely while driving,” Bruins said. “Hitting someone from behind is very clear evidence that whatever was going on in that car was not safe and should have been considered negligent.”

Olin’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in July against the county, the Sheriff’s Department and the deputy, alleging driver negligence and seeking to obtain more information about the incident.

In a civil case the standard of proof is only “by a preponderance of the evidence” rather than the much higher standard of proving negligence beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecutors said.

According to the Sheriff’s Department’s own policies and procedures involving the operation of a vehicle, “members shall always employ defensive driving techniques to avoid or prevent a collision” and shall not operate vehicles “in an unsafe or negligent manner.”

In mobile digital competency tests, employees are also reminded “to use caution” while operating an MDC and that “distracted driving is inherently unsafe,” according to training documents provided by the Sheriff’s Department.

Wood, who is still a deputy, transferred shortly after the incident to court services but had made the request more than a year earlier, a department spokesman has said.

Olin, who was 65 years old and is survived by his wife, Louise, and sons Christopher and Geoffrey, was a partner of the Encino-based law firm Altschul & Olin LLP and had also served as chief operating officer of A&M Records and of the online music store Napster.

Louise Olin is in the process of launching the Milt Olin Foundation, dedicated to eliminating cycling-related fatalities and serious injuries through education, community awareness, collaboration and advocacy.