From [HERE] A man who was shot at 13 times by a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy in Moreno Valley last year is suing the county, claiming the deputy used excessive force, lied in his report on the incident and was not properly held accountable.
The lawsuit goes further, alleging that the shooting was the result of policies and practices within the Sheriff’s Department, including inadequate supervision and discipline of deputies, that “have resulted in a culture of violence in which the use of excessive force is an accepted and customary part of police work in the County of Riverside.”
The suit, filed Thursday in federal court on behalf of plaintiff Manuel Vasquez, 29, demands a jury trial and seeks yet-to-be-determined damages. Two defendants in addition to the county are named: Sheriff Stan Sniff and Investigator Michael Callahan, who shot Vasquez.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit because the litigation is ongoing.
The shooting occurred about 2 a.m. June 12, 2016. Vasquez was struck twice in the back and once each in the head and left hand, the lawsuit says. His attorney, Jeremy Jass, said in an interview that the injuries continue to hinder Vasquez’s life — he cannot use his left hand, which makes finding work difficult.
A news release issued by the Sheriff’s Department at the time said a deputy was on routine patrol when he spotted a stolen car and followed it to the 15300 block of Canyonstone Drive, where the driver parked and approached a house. The release said only that the shooting happened after the deputy made contact with the man.
According to the lawsuit, Vasquez was driving his sister’s car — which had been reported stolen — to visit his girlfriend at her mother’s house. Callahan watched Vasquez walk up to the home and followed him with his pistol drawn.
While Vasquez and his girlfriend were talking through a window, Callahan ordered Vasquez to put his hands up, the suit said. Vasquez — “not sure who was talking to him or what was said to him” — turned around and asked, “What?”
The lawsuit contends that as Vasquez began to put his hands up, Callahan shot at him 13 times.
Vasquez was taken to a hospital, then booked into jail the next day, sheriff’s officials said at the time.
The lawsuit claims that Callahan “lied in his report and interview after the shooting” in saying that he saw Vasquez with a gun and that Vasquez “took a shooting stance at him.”
Vasquez was unarmed, had not committed a serious crime, did not pose a threat to Callahan, was showing his hands as ordered and was shot while he “was in a position of submission,” the complaint said. Jass said Vasquez’s injuries contradict the deputy’s claims.
Vasquez pleaded guilty in October to felony vehicle theft and misdemeanor resisting, delaying or obstructing a peace officer.
Callahan was placed on administrative leave after the shooting. He remains employed with the department, officials said Wednesday.
Allegations against department
The lawsuit makes numerous allegations about the Sheriff’s Department in general, including that deputies are inadequately supervised and disciplined when they use force; that when deputies do use force, other officers do not intervene or report illegal activities; and that citizen complaints are minimally investigated in a way “designed to exonerate the officer … rather than discover the true facts.”
“As a result of this code of silence” and inadequate investigation, the suit claims, “deputies reasonably conclude that their excessive use of force will not result in discipline, termination, or criminal prosecution.”
Jass, Vasquez’s attorney, said Tuesday that though he didn’t know of any other cases that support that claim, he is confident that they will come out during the discovery phase of the litigation.
This isn’t Jass’ first time suing the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. He also represented Lake Elsinore resident Alejandro Lopez, who was shot and injured by a deputy in 2012 after a domestic altercation with his ex-girlfriend. Federal court records show that case was settled in 2015; they don’t show for how much, and Jass said he was prohibited from disclosing the amount.
This spring, the county’s finance director told the Board of Supervisors that the Sheriff’s Department needs to do more to limit lawsuits, which have contributed to liability claim payouts almost doubling and liability insurance premiums more than doubling in the past five years.
A Press-Enterprise analysis found that wrongful-death lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department cost the county at least $8.39 million between 2003 and 2015. That includes a $7.8 million jury verdict for a man who was partially paralyzed after being shot in the face in 2011 while hiding from deputies.
Judging officer-involved shootings
Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Mike Bumcrot, who reviews officer-involved shootings for the Riverside Police Department and other agencies, said the typical protocol after an officer-involved shooting is for the law enforcement agency to conduct two investigations: one into whether the officer did anything criminal and should face charges, and another to determine whether the officer acted within policy and should be disciplined.
When the criminal investigation is completed, the case is presented to the local district attorney’s office, which will determine whether to file charges, Bumcrot said.
Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall said prosecutors have not yet reviewed the shooting by Callahan.
It is rare for officers to be criminally charged for their use of force on duty. The law offers them broad protections because they may be making split-second decisions in dangerous situations. Agencies generally won’t disclose whether any disciplinary action is taken.
Bumcrot said the central question in determining whether the use of deadly force is justified is, if “a reasonable person, not even a policeman, were presented the exact facts that the officer was, would they act in a similar matter?”
Bumcrot said he reviewed an officer-involved shooting of a man who was running from police while wearing baggy pants. During the pursuit, the man reached into his waistband, prompting police to shoot him. The man turned out to be unarmed, Bumcrot said, but given the circumstances — it was dark, the man was involved with a gang and he had reached into his waistband while running away — it was determined that the officers’ actions were justified.
Bumcrot said a common misconception of law enforcement officers is that they aren’t fazed by shooting at people.
“I’ve had cops throw up, cry and even quit during the interview,” he said.