The family of a 65-year-old visually impaired cartoonist who was fatally shot by deputies called to his residence in the Laguna Woods retirement community last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The suit filed in Los Angeles federal court on behalf of Paul Mono’s widow, Sue Peck, and daughters alleges that deputies opened fire without speaking with a witness who could have explained the retiree was suffering from seriously declining vision and was not dangerous.
“This was a police-created killing,” plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Stormer alleged. “There was no need for the sheriff’s deputies to take Paul’s life. The sheriff’s department is supposed to train its deputies in how to deal with people experiencing mental crises and de-escalate situations like this. The department and the deputies clearly failed here.”
The sheriff’s department declined to comment on pending litigation. The suit names five deputies, a sergeant and then-Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
The Orange County District Attorney’s office previously found that deputies were justified in shooting as they saw Mono reach for a handgun inside his condo on Feb. 6, 2018.
Mono, a syndicated cartoonist whose work had been published in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, had no criminal record and was experiencing a mental crisis due to the increasing loss of his vision, according to the lawsuit.
When Mono expressed his anger and frustration to his real estate agent about a general contractor hired for a home renovation project, the contractor — who was listening in via an open call on her cell phone — called for emergency help, Stormer said.
The lawsuit alleges that when deputies responded, five deputies rushed to Mono and Peck’s home with guns already drawn, ignoring the presence of key witnesses, who could have explained that Mono was going blind and not dangerous.
After surrounding the condo, pointing their guns at Mono and Peck, and shouting incomprehensible orders, the deputies fired 14 bullets through the windows and door of the home, hitting Mono six times, the lawsuit alleges. He died at a hospital later that day.
Real estate agent Jennifer Heflin, who had sold the condo to Mono and his wife about five months prior, told media outlets after the shooting that Mono had been upset about floor plans for his home in the gated retirement community.
She alleged that Mono showed her a gun and ammunition the day before the shooting and said he wanted to shoot his contractor for reportedly going over budget. She said she went to visit him the day of the shooting, with the contractor joining in by phone, though he was nearby. When the contractor heard Mono getting upset, he told Heflin to get out and called 911.
The Orange County Register reported last year that the contractor witnessed sheriff’s deputies enter the house in the 600 block of Avenida Sevilla while he and Heflin waited near a carport.
“They went to his door, yelling, `Put the gun down. Get down,’ and then we heard the shots,” he told the newspaper.
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and legal fees.
“We moved to Laguna Woods Village because we thought we’d be safe there,” Peck said in a statement released by her lawyers. “Instead, the sheriff’s deputies came and took everything away from us. We were minding our own business in our home. Paul wasn’t a threat to anyone. There was no reason this had to happen, and we want justice.”
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