Lawsuit Accuses Sheriff’s Deputies of Negligently Putting Locksmith in Harm’s Way, Resulting in His Death, During Attempted Eviction of Tenant with Violent History

HPD_SWAT_Team.jpgA lawsuit alleges that sheriff’s deputies negligently placed a locksmith in an unreasonably dangerous situation by bringing him along on an eviction without warning him of specific known risks, resulting in his death. Engert, et al v. Stanislaus County, et al, No. 1:13-cv-00126, 2nd am. complaint (E.D. Ca., Oct. 23, 2013). The individual subject to eviction was reportedly known to be both heavily armed and violent, but the sheriff’s deputies allegedly did not warn the locksmith of the danger, nor did they provide any safeguards for him. The locksmith’s widow sued the county and various county officials for violations of her late husband’s civil and constitutional rights, negligence, and wrongful death.

Two deputies of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Robert Paris and Michael Glinskas, were assigned on April 12, 2012 to perform an eviction at an apartment in Modesto, California. According to the plaintiff’s most recent amended complaint, the apartment’s occupant, James Ferrario, was known to the sheriff’s department as a “dangerous, mentally unstable individual, with weapons in his home,” and with a history of threats and assaults. The deputies brought a locksmith, Glendon Engert, along to open the apartment door.

The deputies allegedly did not warn Engert of the possible threat posed by Ferrario. Engert’s position in front of a doorway, with a possibly armed individual inside, is reportedly known as a “vertical coffin.” Ferrario opened fire from inside the apartment with armor-piercing bullets, killing Engert and Paris. After an eleven-hour standoff, Ferrario committed suicide. A search of his apartment yielded twenty-two firearms, including an M16 and an SKS rifle, and about five hundred rounds of ammunition.

Documents related to the eviction reportedly warned that Ferrario had multiple firearms, including an M16, that he had military training, and that his mental state might be unstable. Engert’s wife, Irina Engert, filed a wrongful death claim with the county in September 2012, followed by a federal lawsuit in January 2013. She has amended her complaint several times, adding Engert’s parents as plaintiffs, and incorporating an independent probe released in the spring of 2013 that concluded that the deputies had ample warnings of the danger posed by Ferrario, but that Deputy Paris and others disregarded them.

The lawsuit asserts causes of action against the sheriff and the county, Deputy Glinskas, the estate of Deputy Paris, and other sheriff’s office officials, both in their official and individual capacities, for violations of Engert’s civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This is the statute that allows civil claims against government officials for “deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities.” It is commonly used in police brutality cases.

The complaint alleges that the defendants acted with “reckless or conscious disregard for, and deliberate indifference to,” Engert’s rights, that this “reckless and callous disregard” was “malicious, wanton, or oppressive,” and that Engert’s death was a foreseeable consequence. The plaintiffs are also claiming negligence and wrongful death, arguing the the defendants knew or should have known that Ferrario posed a danger, that they owed a duty of care to protect Engert, that they breached this duty by dismissing or ignoring warnings about Ferrario, and that Engert was killed as a result.

The personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen have dedicated their practice to the pursuit of justice for people in Maryland who have been injured due to the illegal or negligent acts of others. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

Web Resources:

Engert, et al v. Stanislaus County, et al (PACER registration required), No. 1:13-cv-00126, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California

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Photo credit: By Ukfan2013 (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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