San Bernardino County has settled for $5 million a federal lawsuit filed by a Highland man who was paralyzed after being shot by a sheriff’s deputy following a high-speed chase.
Lorenzo Gomez, Jr., 33, sued sheriff’s deputies Ryan Peppler, Jon Cahow, and the county in U.S. District Court in Riverside in January 2014 alleging excessive force, denial of medical care, battery and negligence. The lawsuit stemmed from an Aug. 19, 2011, chase in Highland in which Gomez ran into an occupied apartment and was shot in the face by Peppler. The shooting left Gomez paralyzed and in need of 24-hour care and supervision, his attorneys say.
The Aug. 20 settlement bars Gomez from taking any further legal action against the county and does not cover any attorney fees or other costs incurred in the litigation. The settlement is not an admission of guilt by the defendants.
Gomez was charged in July 2014 with three felony counts of assault on a peace officer and one felony count of evading a peace officer with willful disregard.
According to a 22-page report from the District Attorney’s Office finding the shooting legally justified, Gomez led deputies on a high speed chase through Highland, crashing twice into Peppler’s patrol car, a fence and parked vehicles, one of which had people inside.
Gomez, according to the D.A.’s report, put his vehicle in reverse and accelerated directly toward Peppler and another deputy. Peppler fired 10 shots at Gomez as he was backing his car toward him and the other deputy. One of the bullets fired from Peppler’s gun struck Gomez in his left index finger.
Gomez slowed down and jumped out of the vehicle he was driving, while it was still moving, near his residence in the 7500 block of Elmwood Road. He ran into an apartment occupied by a family of seven, including five children. The mother yelled for Gomez to leave, but Gomez wouldn’t, and the family locked themselves in a bedroom, according to the D.A.’s report.
Peppler, according to the report, spotted Gomez through a window and yelled for Gomez to put his hands up. When Gomez refused and started reaching for his waist, Peppler shot Gomez in the face.
At trial, a jury acquitted Gomez of the three assault charges, but convicted him on the evading charge. He is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 6 in San Bernardino Superior Court.
“The jury spoke, and they acquitted him of all counts that accused him of trying to assault a peace officer. It is clear the evidence didn’t support that,” said Rajan Maline, Gomez’s lead attorney in the criminal case.
Gomez’s attorneys say he lived in the neighboring apartment and was trying to surrender to deputies when he was shot.
“There was witness testimony to suggest he was surrendering at the time,” said attorney Dale K. Galipo, who represented Gomez in his civil case and also served as his co-counsel in the criminal case.
Gomez was shouting at the deputies from inside the apartment, begging them not to shoot. The bullet fired by Peppler passed through Gomez’s jaw and lodged in his neck, paralyzing him, according to the lawsuit.
Maline said the $5 million settlement, minus attorney fees and other incurred costs, will go toward Gomez’s future medical costs.
Now, Maline and Galipo are concerned about the medical treatment Gomez will receive if the judge sentences him to state or county prison in November.
“Our position, regardless of what the judge determines, is that (Gomez) has already paid the ultimate price, which is the loss of the use of his entire body. He’ll be paralyzed for life,” Maline said. “He has to live in constant fear of infection and death. He’s a prisoner in his own body. There’s nothing anyone can do to punish him more.”
By Joe Nelson for SbSun