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Family of TSA agent slain at LAX files $25 million claim against city

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The family of a federal security screener who was killed when a man opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport last November has filed a $25 million claim against the city, alleging that security lapses contributed to the agent's death.

Gerardo Hernandez, 53, became the first U.S. Transportation Security Administration agent slain in the line of duty when he was shot 12 times at point blank range in Terminal 3 of the airport as he stood at the entrance to a security checkpoint.

Police arrested 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia in the shooting rampage, which injured three other people. The incident raised questions over security at the airport and sparked a debate over the safety of unarmed TSA agents at U.S. airports.

Attorney Michael Alder, who represents Hernandez's wife, Ana Machuga, and their two children, said the claim was a precursor to a lawsuit. The city has six months to respond before that lawsuit will be filed, he said.

"The city of Los Angeles employees failed in carrying out their duties, creating a very dangerous lapse in security which was a factor causing Mr. Hernandez to be fatally shot and killed," Alder said.

"Even more horrific, is that the city's employees delayed medical care to Mr. Hernandez," he said. "Our hope is that this suit will eliminate situations like this from ever happening again."

According to the claim, the city of Los Angeles, including Los Angeles World Airport, the airport police and other city agencies, "failed to properly hire, supervise, train, staff and plan for the protection and safety of individuals and personnel at the airport."

Alder said one of the armed police officers stationed in the terminal had been on his lunch break and the other in the bathroom at the time of the attack and that neither had notified dispatchers that they were leaving their post.

He said it was not yet clear if the gunman took advantage of the officers' absence to storm into the terminal with a semi-automatic rifle and open fire.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney's office declined to comment on the claim.

Ciancia, who was critically wounded in a gunfight with police, was indicted in December on charges of murder and attempted murder of federal officers as well as committing an act of violence at an international airport and firearms offenses.

Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty against Ciancia, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)

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