The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $14.35 million settlement payment to the relatives of a man accidentally shot to death in his Pico Rivera home by a sheriff’s deputy during a search for an armed parolee in 2014.
Frank Mendoza, 54, was fatally shot Aug. 1, 2014, in the doorway of his Pico Rivera home. Sheriff’s deputies had descended on the house in search of an armed parolee who had been running through the neighborhood and then broke into the Mendoza home in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive.
Some members of the Mendoza family managed to escape the house, but as Frank Mendoza tried to leave through the front door of the home, he was shot by a sheriff’s deputy who mistook him for the suspect.
“It’s the worst nightmare of any citizen where they’re under the suspicion they’re being protected by law enforcement, and instead, law enforcement ends up taking their life,” the family’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian, told reporters at an August news conference announcing the settlement.
The settlement is believed to be one of the largest ever paid by the county in a non-class-action lawsuit, though it falls short of the $15 million paid in a wrongful conviction settlement in 2017. The county’s litigation risk manager could not immediately be reached for confirmation.
The Mendoza lawsuit was filed in September 2015 by Mildred Mae Mendoza, the mother of the slain man; Mendoza’s wife, Lorraine Munoz; and Mendoza’s children, Jeremy Lorraine, Steven, Frank Jr., and Jason. The suit alleged negligence and battery and sought unspecified damages.
Frank Mendoza Jr. told reporters at the news conference that he does not bear any ill will toward the sheriff’s department.
“I can understand they are here to serve and they’re here to protect, it’s just, that day it just didn’t go their way,” he said.
The suspect who was being sought by deputies the day of the shooting, 24-year-old Cedric Ramirez — an armed parolee wanted on felony warrants — was killed when a sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau team raided the home several hours after Mendoza was shot and found him, still armed with a revolver, hiding under a pile of laundry.
Ramirez had been spotted by deputies and a probation officer earlier in the day, but he fled on foot, sheriff’s officials said.
A short time later, deputies spotted Ramirez on the driveway of a nearby home, according to the sheriff’s department. Ramirez shot at the deputies, one of whom returned fire and may have wounded the suspect, deputies said. Ramirez then ran behind the Mendoza house and broke in through a rear window, deputies said.
The lawsuit stated that although deputies went inside Mendoza’s home to look for Ramirez before the shooting and found Mendoza with his wife and two of his children, the lawmen left the family vulnerable when they departed, thus allowing the parolee to enter the residence.
“As a result, (Mendoza and his relatives), fearing for their lives, had no choice but to attempt to escape from their home without the assistance of the (deputies),” the suit stated.
In 2014, then-interim Sheriff John Scott addressed the Mendoza shooting, saying Ramirez fired at deputies from inside the home.
“Within seconds of those shots being fired, an individual appeared in the living room moving towards the front doorway,” Scott said. “Based on the quick movement of the individual, a deputy positioned in the front yard thought he was the suspect trying to seek a position inside the front of the home to assault other deputies located outside the window.
“Believing he was an immediate threat to his partners, the deputy fired twice, striking the man, who fell to the floor just inside the front door. Tragically, it was Mr. Mendoza.”
Scott said the scene unfolded quickly, and deputies were making split-second decisions.
“We had three individuals come out, and there were shots being fired.” Scott said. “Within about seven seconds, the individual appeared in the doorway from the same general area as the shots that had been fired.
“So that was the information they were working off of. You had an individual shooting at deputies, and then you had — moments later — the individual moving across the doorway.”
Ramirez did not know the victims, according to the sheriff’s department.
The warrants for which Ramirez was wanted were for being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, authorities said. His firearm was recovered at the location, they said.
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