Police Shooting of a Husband and Father in Front of His Home Results in a $7mm Settlement against Sacramento County
This was a police shooting case against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. On August 18, 2016, a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy shot and killed Chad Irwin, a loving and devoted husband and father in front of his home with his wife and children inside. Mr. Irwin’s surviving wife and two daughters were represented by Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood and Campora.
Mr. Irwin and his wife had a brief disagreement earlier in the evening and he left his home as a result. He had been battling depression and he and his wife were working toward getting him treatment. Before leaving, he expressed thoughts of suicide to his wife by saying the family would be better without him. His wife reassured him, but he left in his pickup truck grabbing a small folding knife from the garage before departing. Due to his conduct and the fact he had been drinking alcohol before he left, his wife dialed 911 but then hung up hoping to reach him on his phone. After becoming disconnected, the 911 operator dispatched two Sheriff’s Deputies to the home.
When the sheriffs arrived, the wife explained the circumstances of the evening including her concern over her husband’s depression, his taking the folding knife and thoughts of suicide, and the fact that he had been drinking. She told them her husband was emotionally upset and in need of mental health assistance. While the sheriffs were there, Mr. Irwin called his wife to inform her he was coming home to obtain his depression medication. She informed him that sheriffs were at the home.
The two deputies, one a first-year deputy and the other a 14-year veteran field training officer (FTO), waited in their patrol vehicle for Chad Irwin to return home. For over 10 minutes the two deputies sat in the patrol vehicle without any discussion or making any plans regarding the impending contact other than the FTO telling his trainee “just be ready for anything.” They did not call for backup or a crisis intervention officer trained to handle these sort of circumstances.
Mr. Irwin arrived back at his home and exited his truck with the folding knife in his hand. The two deputies exited their patrol vehicle parked approximately 70 ft. away and approached Mr. Irwin. At a distance of approximately 30 feet, they noticed the knife and drew their weapons. Mr. Irwin paced back in forth in front of his truck while the deputies told him to drop his knife. He reportedly told the two deputies, “I know what happens. I know what this is. You guys are going to kill me.” When he took a step toward the deputies, the senior FTO officer fired 11 shots, hitting the him 7 times. The other officer never fired his service revolver. Six of the seven rounds hit in Chad Irwin’s back, with one hitting his shoulder in the side. Mr. Irwin’s wife and two daughters were in the home and heard the entire encounter. Chad Irwin had no criminal record with members of his family and close friends in law enforcement.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the surviving wife and children and prosecuted by Roger Dreyer, Anton Babich, and Anthony Garilli.
The family alleged that the shooting deputy, and FTO, negligently and recklessly killed Chad Irwin. They claimed that, under the circumstances of this case, the sheriffs knew Mr. Irwin was severely depressed, had expressed a desire to commit suicide, was mentally suffering and in need of help. Nonetheless, the two deputies formulated no plan in the 10 minutes they waited for him to return to his home, nor did they consider any tactics to deescalate the situation or use less-than-lethal force.
During the discovery process before trial, it was learned that although the Sheriff’s Department provided Crisis Intervention Training and had made it mandatory approximately two years before the shooting, the shooting Deputy had not attended because he was too busy. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department maintained a Crisis Response Team that patrol deputies could call for assistance when dealing with emotionally unstable subjects. However, the team was only “on the clock” and available four days per week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The shooting occurred at approximately 9:40 p.m.
The County contended that the Deputy’s use of deadly force was justified and that he was appropriately responding to a threat of violence toward him and his trainee for which he had claimed an actual fear of great bodily injury or death.
This case was extraordinarily complex to prosecute. In all, Mr. Dreyer and his team took 30 depositions including those of eight expert witnesses on police science and other damage topics. The fact that Mr. Irwin possessed a knife and allegedly advanced toward the deputies presented a real risk of a defense verdict at trial. Indeed, the County never made an offer of compromise during the case until the first Mandatory Settlement Conference a little over a month before trial. Due to the unrelenting efforts of Mr. Dreyer and his team to leave no stone unturned and explore every avenue of liability with a commitment to take the case to trial, the County eventually altered its negotiating position to explore resolution.
After nearly two years of litigation, the case settled just days before trial with the County agreeing to pay the family $7 million.