SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — During a tense hearing on Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge John Mendez slammed the city of Sacramento’s attempt to shrug off wrongful death claims relating to the death of 19-year-old Darell Richards at the hands of police officers in 2018.
On the evening of Sept. 5, 2018, Richards was reported to police for brandishing what looked to be a handgun at two cafe employees as he passed by. When spotted by police, Richards fled the scene, ultimately hiding under the stairwell of someone's home. A manhunt ensued, and at 3:12 a.m. on Sept. 6, SWAT team members Todd Edgerton and Patrick Cox fatally shot and killed Richards. They say the believed he was about to shoot another officer, Barry Tiner.
Richard's family claims that before he was found, officers had recovered his backpack containing a receipt for a pellet gun he had purchased earlier that day. They believe officers knew the object described as a "handgun" was actually a non-lethal pellet gun and that Richards was only a threat to himself.
The family says Richards was schizophrenic and struggling with a suicidal episode at the time he was killed. In early 2019, they filed a federal lawsuit against the officers involved and the city, claiming excessive force, wrongful death and negligence.
The case went to trial in October 2022. The jury was deadlocked after four days of deliberation and Mendez declared a mistrial. Afterwards, the defendants moved for Mendez to judge the case, claiming in a 34-page brief that the city is not liable for officer conduct and that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity.
On Thursday afternoon, Mendez heard oral arguments on the motion but wasted no time noting that the case would proceed to another trial on excessive force claims.
"It's clear to me that the claim will go forward," said the Bush appointee, addressing the excessive force claims. "There is no basis under the law for qualified immunity."
A point of contention was whether to keep Lieutenant Sameer Sood as a defendant. Sood wasn’t involved in the shooting but was in a supervisory position.
"For over the last 30 years, supervisors — all the way up to the chief of police — have been on notice and it has been clearly established they may be held liable for their subordinates’ constitutional violations," the plaintiffs' reply brief stated.
But Mendez grilled Patrick Buelna, attorney for the Richards family, for not addressing in the reply brief some of the critical claims and arguments concerning the lieutenant, including a 14th Amendment familial loss claim and supervisory liability claims. Mendez generally ruled in the defendants’ favor as to Sood, although a negligence claim will proceed against him.
Additionally, defendants' attorney Sean Richardson, with the city of Sacramento, successfully argued that the officers involved in the shooting, Todd Edgerton and Patrick Cox, are free from 14th Amendment familial relationship claims due to qualified immunity.
Both parties are still arguing as to whether Richards pointed his pellet gun at officers moments before his death.
"Put simply, a reasonable officer under the same rapidly evolving circumstances would have believed Tiner’s life was in danger and the use of deadly force by Cox and Edgerton to protect Tiner was unquestionably reasonable," the defendants' brief stated.
The family’s claims for wrongful death, Bane Act and punitive damages against Sacramento and officers Edgerton and Cox will move forward.
The new trial is set to begin in September.
Neither Buelna nor Richardson immediately responded to requests for comments.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.